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Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

19 Feb

I love the 20s and I talk about it a lot so I’m not surprised that my book club moderator  recommended The Diviners to me. It was right up my ally. It was paranormal without the vampire romance and very, very 20s.

Cover image via

Cover image via

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Summary from Goodreads:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

This book bothered me a bit at the beginning and a bit at the end. Between those, I was enraptured. The story of Evie and her uncle in New York was really well crafted and the action around Naught John Hobbs was well paced. You can see that my rating of 4 stars is high because of this. The issue I took with the beginning of the novel was the sudden and over-saturated use of 20s slang. As someone who’s writing a 20s novel it was too much. There are some words that needed to be introduced (jake, swell, hooch, etc.) but there were some that were unnecessary and added too purposefully. I remember an early scene when Evie’s parents are talking to her about what she did to be sent away and she’s asked if she has anything to say for herself. She looks to her mother who wears glasses and says, “I hope I never need cheaters” (glasses). That was really unnecessary and I remembered it the rest of the novel. Thankfully I either got used to the writing style or it became less forced because I didn’t think about it much toward the end of the novel.

The other thing that bothered me was the end. I was on the second to last disk when the climax hit. I was a little disappointed because many of the main characters and narrators weren’t involved in the action at all. I brushed that aside a bit but after the fight, there was so much more of the story to go that I was confused where it was heading. The last disk was setting up for a sequel. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s good to set up for a sequel when you’re writing a book, but I realized that two of my favorite characters wouldn’t even make it into the action until the next book and all the feelings I had for them needed to be put on hold. That was frustrating. The set-up for the sequel seemed forced; like the author forgot to do it before the climax and just tacked it all on to the end. The pacing really fell apart for me there.

I liked that the characters all seemed like a stereotype of a 20s social class at first but as we got to know them they had something or another that made them unique. Memphis has his gift, Theta has hers, Henry is hiding part of who he is, and Evie can be all talk and no action. Bray let on to these slowly which helped me like the characters. None of them seemed over the top, especially for the time. Mable was a favorite of mine because she reminded me a bit of a character in my novel. I was sad she disappeared from the story a bit at the end.

Sam Lloyd was my favorite character. And it’s not because we share a name. I liked his good/bad guy blend and enjoyed not knowing what he was ever really after. I was disappointed when his character wasn’t very involved in the final battle. He was obviously being set up for the sequel, which I’m not likely to read for some time now. I wish I’d seen more from him.

I related to Mabel a lot because she reminded me of myself at her age. I was reluctant to ‘do what the cool kids did’ or break any rules no matter how much I agreed with them. Heck, I shiver at work every day because I won’t buy a personal heater because it’s against the fire code; I’m still Mabel! Again, I wish she’d been around more at the end, she seemed to disappear from the book.

I liked when Jericho, Evie, and Uncle Will went to visit the Brethren. I thought the plot moved really well through that section and that the characters developed a lot. I liked the problems they ran into because they seemed really realistic to me. Sometimes I don’t want people to escape because it seems too convenient, but this one played well.

I’ll ignore my complaints about the beginning and end of the novel when picking my least favorite part. I’ll have to say Isiah’s story was my least favorite part. I thought he was a really great character but what happened to him at the end bothered me because it didn’t develop him and really only diminished his importance in the impending sequel. I wanted to see more from Isiah and Memphis and I was really disappointed that there was nothing more.

The audiobook I listened to was the Listening Library version narrated by January LaVoy. LaVoy did an amazing job at not only giving the characters their own voices but using speech patters and slang of the 20s. I’d imagine it took a lot of research to be able to narrate a book like this one. I also enjoyed that Bray did an introduction at the beginning and an author’s note at the end. It gave the audiobook a really nice touch.

I liked what Bray had to say about looking beyond a person’s appearance. No one was what they seemed in this novel, though that was mostly due to supernatural powers. At the same time, Jericho was someone Evie never would have looked at if she hadn’t been forced to get past her initial thoughts and it seems like Uncle Will has a lot he’s been hiding as well.

Libba Bray Image via Barnes & Noble

Libba Bray
Image via Barnes & Noble

Writer’s Takeaway: I think handling multiple points of view can be really challenging and despite my feelings about the pacing of those other points of view toward the end of the book, Bray handled it very well throughout most of the book. Though Evie narrated most of the book, Memphis still had a lot to say and chapters that jumped to the victims, Theta, and others, kept me interested along the way.

Enjoyable but with some flaws that detracted from me being completely engrossed. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled 1920-1939 in the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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