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Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

June 30, 2012

Release Date: September, 2012 (Little, Brown)

First Line: In the town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.

The Short Version: Sharp and philosophical supernatural mystery, by the fabulous Libba Bray.

BOTBS (Back of the Book Summary): 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 the city of speakeasies, shopping, Broadway plays, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfeld girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult – also known as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.

Will is haunted by the occult, and 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 they will soon discover something dark and evil has awakened.

My Thoughts: I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC of The Diviners while attending the American Library Association conference in Anaheim.  While all of my previous experiences with Libba Bray’s books have been good, I was blown away by how new and fresh The Diviners felt. Beauty Queens was a scathingly funny satire about the way our society views women, their abilities, and their accomplishments. A Great and Terrible Beauty, and the two books which followed it, examined the power and peril of womanhood in the Victorian era, mixed with a healthy dose of dark fantasy. The writing in A Great and Terrible Beauty was lush and celebrated the power of the feminine in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen since the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce.

But The Diviners feels very different. It is very much a city book, dark and glittering, with hard and sharp edges, and a narrator who is skilled at concealing her true self.

Like many books I’ve read recently, this one seems to resonate particularly with our current complicated political and moral landscape, and I loved this passage from the book:

She was tired of being told how it was by this generation, who’d botched things so badly. They’d sold their children a pack of lies: God and country. Love your parents. All is fair. And then they’d sent those boys, her brother, off to fight a great monster of a war that maimed and killed and destroyed whatever was inside them. Still they lied, expecting her to mouth the words and play along. 

While it’s a supernatural mystery and adventure, Libba Bray still manages to examine religion, good, evil, and the extremely complicated truths of humanity without ever sacrificing the pace or integrity of her story.

There are very few books which I can read without simultaneously trying to discover the way they were put together – the underpinnings, plot holes, and character motivations. But this was a flawless read. It seems to have sprung fully formed from the mind of its creator, and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

Who Would Like It: Fans of supernatural adventures, or fans of previous Libba Bray books (although the tone is very different). Anyone who enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s newest (The Name of the Star) would definitely enjoy this one.



(Be aware, this review refers to an unpublished arc and there may be changes before publishing.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Claire permalink
    June 30, 2012 5:15 pm

    I am struggling to get into it! But I will try harder, since you say it’s worth it.

    • June 30, 2012 6:25 pm

      It was a little slow in the beginning for me, just trying to figure out who was who. But I thought it really picked up once you get all the characters straight 🙂

    • Jackie permalink
      July 3, 2012 9:36 pm

      I agree Claire, I had a really hard time getting into the story. Perhaps because it was unclear what the plot of the story was until nearly half-way through and there are also a lot of story threads that are started then left to simmer. It was a satisfying read.

  2. July 3, 2012 5:33 am

    Hi, this review created a vivid wellspring of images from the Diviners! It takes a razor sharp mind to recognize the puppet strings! Thank you for the follow! I look forward to reading more of your writing! Great to meet you!

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