Book #1 in “The Diviners Series”
By: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Seventeen-year-old Evie O’Neill has been sent away to Manhattan to spend a few months with her uncle Will. Her parents consider this a punishment for her antics in town, but Evie couldn’t be more excited. She sees this as an opportunity to let loose and find herself, hoping she’ll find more people like her. She’s a free spirit, a flapper, and she has no intentions of being responsible. Yet, she soon discovers there is a killer on the loose in her city, one that has the police baffled. Aiding her uncle in his investigation of the paranormal symbols left behind by the killer, Evie realizes that she has the power to catch this villain through supernatural means – a power that could put her in more danger than the killer alone.
I really enjoyed this novel. I loved the setting – the 1920s is one of my favorite decades to read about, and Bray really brought it to life in this story. There are speakeasies, flappers and chorus girls. Prohibition is in full swing, racism is rampant, and homosexuals have to keep their sexuality a secret – only revealing themselves in underground clubs. She also gives us a glance at the butchery young, desperate women went through back then when they had abortions. (That is actually probably one of the scariest images in the novel.) She also discusses churches that supported the KKK and a movement to purify the genetics within the United States, both of which, scarily enough, actually existed.
I thought the characters were great as well. I did have a hard time dealing with Evie on occasion. Many of her decisions are selfish and can lead to trouble for others around her. (Ex: when Mabel gets arrested during a raid at a club, which could have been avoided if Evie had agreed to leave when Mabel wanted to.) As much as she claims to adore Mabel, she never really bothers to understand her, only try and change her to make her fit in. I know she means well, but it does get irritating. I also hated how much she drinks alcohol and how frequently she wants it or emphasizes how great it is. However, I loved Evie’s strength and sass. I found her very witty and enjoyed her sarcastic exchanges with Sam, Jericho and Will.
Mabel is the character I most related to, despite the fact that she never really had much of the story focused on her. She’s an introvert, a reader, shy but kind, and holds strong in her beliefs for the rights of others. She was raised to fight for workers’ rights and takes part in that movement – headed by her parents. I understood her irritation with Evie – who, in her own way, meant well in her attempts to bring Mabel out of her shell – because I know how it feels to have someone you care about try to change you.
Memphis is also a strong character. A boy who once had the power to heal, he spends his time running illegal gambling numbers, writing poetry, reading, and looking after his younger brother, Isaiah. His back story is tragic, and all he seems to have left is his little brother who he’d do anything for. It is through Memphis that Bray also explores the way interracial relationships were received back in the 1920s. His best friend warns him against the relationship – citing it as dangerous when the woman gets sick of him. She could lose her job if her boss discovered she was dating an African American. I hope this continues to be explored in future entries of the series.
Theta and Henry are also interesting characters. I liked that Theta was similarly sassy to Evie and knew how to work a crowd. She’s a free spirit, a dancer, an entertainer, but she is also running from a dark past. Henry is sweet and kind, a man that took her in when she was starving on the streets. He has a great sense of humor, and he’s also gay – which was a dangerous thing in that era. As with the interracial component, I hope this theme is also explored more in the books to come.
Lastly, we have Sam and Jericho – one a petty theif, the other a ward of the state, taken in by Evie’s uncle. Sam comes off as charming but snaky when Evie first encounters him at the train station – he picks her pocket and thus begins a battle of wits between the two. Eventually he comes to work for Evie’s uncle, becoming a perpetual pain to Evie, but also a great source of aid in the case. I am also very interested in his past and his quest to crack open “Operation Buffalo.” I want to know what happened to his mother just as badly as he does. Jericho is interesting just because of his history. He is the strong silent type, only speaking when he feels it is important, but still offering much insight on the case at hand.
I also found the villain to be intriguing. I liked that, similar to Freddy Krueger, he had a creepy rhyme that followed his legend. I also found the mythology surrounding him creepy but believable. A supernatural killer, sacrifices, and the apocalypse? That kind of story is right up my alley! The fact that he had a crazed cult following only aided in the creep-factor for me. I’m wondering if the Brethren will reappear in later entries. They are an interesting group – I would like to see more of them.
The novel was both very suspenseful and a fast read. When I had the time to read, I’d run through four or five chapters at a time. Despite the fact that I didn’t always agree with Evie’s decisions, I did worry for her when she began investigating on her own. I did worry about who might be next, and there were many twists and turns I didn’t see coming.
There was only one other thing, aside from some of Evie’s characteristics, that I didn’t like about the novel. I didn’t like that Bray was descriptive about animal sacrifices, especially when she avoided describing the death scenes of the murder victims at all. If one could be avoided, why not the other? If one is graphic, why must we cover up the other? It didn’t make sense to me. I don’t like animal deaths in general, but I can understand them being described if the human deaths are also done that way. If not, I don’t see why we have to read such details. It just doesn’t seem necessary to me.
Overall, this was a fun, suspenseful read with realistic, interesting characters who may not always be likable, but do develop as the story progresses. The villain and his followers are creepy and the story is very engaging. Recommended.