It’s 1920s New York City. It’s flappers and Follies, jazz and gin. It’s after the war but before the depression. And for certain group of bright young things it’s the opportunity to party like never before.
For Evie O’Neill, it’s escape. She’s never fit in in small town Ohio and when she causes yet another scandal, she’s shipped off to stay with an uncle in the big city. But far from being exile, this is exactly what she’s always wanted: the chance to show how thoroughly modern and incredibly daring she can be.
But New York City isn’t about just jazz babies and follies girls. It has a darker side. Young women are being murdered across the city. And these aren’t crimes of passion. They’re gruesome. They’re planned. They bear a strange resemblance to an obscure group of tarot cards. And the New York City police can’t solve them alone.
Evie wasn’t just escaping the stifling life of Ohio, she was running from the knowledge of what she could do. She has a secret. A mysterious power that could help catch the killer – if he doesn’t catch her first.
To the inhabitants of Zenith, Ohio, Evie O’Neill is just ‘Too Much’, sentiments with which Evie heartily agrees; too much for the small minds of her small hometown. She will show them, she is going to make a name for herself, be ‘a somebody’ and New York City is exactly where she is meant to be. All she needs to do now is prove to stuffy old “Unc” Will, just how indispensible she is, even if that means rustling up interest in her uncle’s dusty old museum and assisting him in the investigation of the gruesome Pentacle murders. The only question now is how much should she reveal about her mysterious powers and the unique perspective they afford her.
I have complicated feelings for Evie. Evie is a good time girl, brash and single-mindedly to the point of selfishness, she doesn’t consider the consequences of her actions and at times I felt like I want to reach in to the pages of the book and shake some sense of her. But then she would give you a glimpse of the deep hurt and vulnerability beneath the brash, roughed façade, a flash of brilliance, of quick thinking intelligence, a backbone of steely courage and an innate sense of right and wrong. I found myself loving Evie, because of her faults not in spite of them.
While Evie, is undoubtedly the main protagonist of The Diviners, the majority of the story line being narrated from her third person perspective, such care is taken with the introduction of each of the additional players that by the end of this installment instead of a list of supporting characters, we are gifted with a large ensemble cast, irrecoverably tied to each other and unknowing racing towards a greater purpose. I can’t help referring to the protagonists as a cast. The descriptive narrative, the sprawling scenes taking in swathes of New York City and the frequently changing third person perspective gave the book a very cinematic feel.
Like a good horror movie, The Diviners was accompanied by an eerie soundtrack track, an ominous warning, a creepy nursery song, the merest hint of which was able to catch my breath and accelerate my pulse.
Libba Bray is the master of creepy. Crafting a story that managed to maintain a baseline of lip biting unease throughout the entire duration of the book, punctuated with fight or flight inducing, sweaty palmed, stomach twisting, heart in mouth horror.
One of the main attractions of the book was the 1920’s setting. For me thoughts of this era inspire images of bobbed haired beauties, draped in pearls on the arms of dapper young men, visiting jazz clubs and drinking cocktails. While the glamour and the sparkle were certainly evident, I was pleasantly surprised at the parallels with our own society. The vilification of our hooded youth as reflected in the disapproval of the flappers. While the heartbreak of young men misled into conflict, returning broken and unsupported, the reconciliation of faith, belief and ethics with ever advancing technological developments, and fame culture are still very relevant to our culture to this day.
I have to admit that as in many areas of my life, I am Glutton for books, devouring whole novels in just a few sittings. At 600 pages, The Diviners is the kind of book that can’t be easily gobbled, the sheer number of pages combined with the weight of it conspire against the book glutton.
Feeding my gluttonous urges, I called upon my multitasking skills, and downloaded the audio book. My intention was to alternate between the crisp paper pages in the evening and the audiobook as I went about my daily life of housework, school runs, commuting and dog walks. I found narrator, January LaVoy’s performance totally engaging and absorbing. So much so that I found that I quickly favored listening to the audiobook and put the paper edition to one side. The Diviners audiobook was the perfect accompaniment to my urban strolls in the fading evening light and crisp autumnal air.
Under LaVoy’s guardianship, each character was bestowed with a distinctive aural voice, which beautifully complemented the character voices created by Bray and the images I’d already begun to formulate in my minds eye. The production value was exceptional, suffering from none of the skipped passages and repeats I have come across in some audiobooks.
The Diviners suited a slower, savored read. Libba beautifully weaves together so many intricate and unique story threads, that you want to slow down and take note of each new colour and texture in its own right before enjoying its contribution to the overall tapestry of the book and, what promised to be a fantastically gripping, series.
That isn’t to say that the book wasn’t a well-paced page turner. Instead of the book lovers chant of “just one more page” I found myself walking just one more block. I even volunteered to take the dog for her morning walk, deserting my duvet and braving the early morning frost, just so I could squeeze in a little more listening time each day.
Verdict: I finished The Diviners with the overall impression of a fantastically creepy and satisfying read, but also with the excited anticipation that it was just the first step in Bray’s master plan.
Reviewed by Caroline