Being a law student doesn’t leave you a whole lot of time to do anything that’s not, you know, reading for law school. But I do my best. Picking books can be difficult because if I’m going to read a book it either needs to be a.) good and well worth the effort or b.) a quick, fun read. The Diviners by Libba Bray was a book that I had seen was getting a lot of hype and a few people had recommended it to me before. But at just under six hundred pages it was definitely a book that I needed to dedicate some time to and really set down and read.
Now, three weeks later, I’m ready to offer up a final verdict.
The Diviners was well worth the effort it took to finish. If you’re looking for a decent story and you just happen to see it at the local library or bookstore I don’t think you’ll regret picking it up. At least so long as you’re a fan of teenage paranormal fiction and budding Nancy Drews.
One of the more unique aspects of this book is the setting. It takes place in the 1920s, after the First World War but before the Great Depression. It’s the era of emerging jazz music and Prohibition. There’s something hopeful and tragic about the era as a whole and that lends itself well to the paranormal plot. Big cities, flashy people. It’s the perfect time for the creatures who go bump in the night to hide and take advantage of the most vulnerable among us.
Though Evie O’Neill, the protagonist, seems like anything but vulnerable. She’s a wayward, brash teenager from Ohio whose parents lost their connection with her after her older brother died in the war. After she outs the popular, wealthy son of a powerful man back home as a cheater and the father of a bastard child her parents send her away to her uncle while tensions die down.
Of course, New York City in the 1920s is probably the last place you should send a teenager whose only real past-times are drinking and mischief making. Add in the fact that this particular teenager only knew what she knew about this boy and his love child through her secret power of psychometry and the fact that her uncle’s ‘house’ also doubles as a museum of the occult… well. When the police come knocking on their door and enlist her uncle’s help in trying to decipher a series of unusual occult murders, you know you’re in for something.
You actually knew that before you ever meet Evie or her uncle or hear about the murders, though.
Which brings me to the only thing I didn’t like about the book: the format. The book is very disjointed and very episodic – it moves from character to character quickly almost in the vein of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones. Except a good portion of the time the characters are all pretty much within a thirty minute commute of one another and every fifth POV switch is someone we never see again. It’s a flashback, it’s a random scene of preposition, it’s a victim’s perspective as they are being murdered by a supernatural force… It’s a little disjointed and some of the background we get in these POV shifts is just… unnecessary. Take, for example, Evie’s flapper chorus girl friend Theta. I like her as a character but I don’t need all the background I get for her – at least not yet. Especially when it comes in a later chapter in the middle of a lot of tense episodes and scenes. And especially not when this is the first in a four book contract. I wish they had stuck to the real story, stuck with just Evie’s POV (or picked like two or three people and went with a much more limited cast of first person characters.)
There were a lot of other things that sort of made me raise an eyebrow but I trust Libba Bray to guide us through the next three books and answer all of our questions. Magic and supernatural powers are slowly coming back into our world and becoming more prevelant and there is a lot of room for development of all the characters and this fantastic, noir sort of world she’s begun to create. For now, though, the Diviners is a decent paranormal investigative novel with a conventionally headstrong female protaganist I think a lot of people will enjoy. As long as you can get past the disjointed structure of the story telling.
Want to see what you think of it before picking it up at your local library of book store? Amazon has the first eleven chapters free for Kindle readers and applications.
I give it a solid B and I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of the series takes us.