After waiting in line for more than an hour at BEA 2012, I was lucky enough to snag a signed ARC of The Diviners (they gave out necklaces with it! Swag!) I devoured it in three days. Here’s a picture of us together; you can see we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Expected publication: September 18th 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie 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.”
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.
Whoa. WHOA. Let me sit down and catch my breath for a minute.
I’m a huge Libba Bray fan. The Gemma Doyle trilogy is one of my favorite YA series (if you like realistic female characters, Gothic mystery, and Victorian London, look no further) and I loved the wildly hysterical Going Bovine as well at the smart and satirical Beauty Queens.
The Diviners is what Libba Bray does best: Creepy fantasy in a sweeping historical setting. Murder, ghosts, and cults—I got more shivers than any Stephen King novel has ever given me. The undead antagonist, Naughty John, is the catchy-tune-whistling, bowler-hat-wearing nightmare in every kid’s closet, and you’ll scoot further toward the edge of your seat as charming protagonist Evie gets closer to uncovering his secrets—and closer to the danger.
Libba takes you on a journey with the wind whistling through streets thick with speakeasies and chorus girls. This is pitch-perfect worldbuilding. 1920’s New York is in every inch of the book, from the quirky slang to Prohibition to Lucky Strike cigarette advertisements. I’m floored by the amount of research she must have done to achieve this level of depth.
Libba’s treatment of female protagonists is one of my favorite things about her writing, and here she does not disappoint. She pulls no punches with Evie, the witty, adventurous, attention-loving flapper girl who reads like a breath of fresh air after a lineup of Katniss-styled no-nonsense female protags. She’s selfish and reckless, but confident and brave—so full of life she jumps off the pages. Some may have trouble relating with her easy charm, but she’s kept real through an undercurrent of insecurity.
Perspective switches are one of my pet peeves, but Libba has won me over. Thoughtful poet Memphis struggles to keep his brother safe in Harlem while dealing with an extremely religious aunt. Chorus-girl Theta fights to maintain the life she’s made for herself after escaping her dark past. They’re tied together by the powers they share—what makes them Diviners.
Libba navigates well the tricky waters of introducing elements to be resolved in later books while bringing full circle the plot points specific to the first book. She follows the formula of her first novel, A Great and Terrible Beauty, by giving the characters a main Big Bad to defeat while simultaneously slipping in mysteries and omens that will carry into the next book.
The Diviners is a weighty book—608 pages, and every one of them exploding with character, worldbuilding, and fantasy. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to get overwhelmed by the backstory and lore, but the book is always powerfully grounded in characters that the audience knows well.
Parts of this book had me more amped up than I was while watching The Dark Knight. The second this book lands in September, run out and buy it. The only thing you’re risking is a sleepless night of picturing Naughty John hiding in your bathroom.