“The line between faith and fanaticism is a constantly shifting one.”
As Evie would put it, I am pos-i-tute-ly furious with myself for not picking this up sooner – and for doing so after Halloween! This book is phenomenal. Libba Bray’s The Diviners is set in Manhattan during the 1920s. It follows 17-year-old Evie O’Neill, who is sent to live in New York with her Uncle Will after humiliating her parents in Ohio. During her stay, a series of sacrificial murders begin taking place across the city. As Uncle Will runs a museum dedicated to the occult, the police request his aid in the investigation. But they soon discover there are more to these murders than mere religious fanaticism – and Evie may need to reveal a few things about her own supernatural abilities to solve the case.
The flapper-era atmosphere is what brings this novel to life, from the expressions the characters use to the frequently discussed hairstyles and outfits (I have to say, this is the one time I didn’t find myself complaining about an author being too focused on wardrobe choices). As with everything, balance is key – and Bray manages to walk a fine line between immersing readers in the culture of the past and making this story relatable to anyone living in the present.
The story shifts perspectives often, something I thought worked well considering the large cast of characters. While Evie is at the forefront of The Diviners, we also follow a number of other teenagers with mysterious powers, each with his or her own distinct voice and characterization. All of the characters are flawed, and it took me a majority of the novel to determine whether I actually liked half of them. As a major fan of imperfect and unlikable characters, this wins brownie points from me. It makes them feel vividly human.
There’s no shortage of horror in this story, something I was pleasantly surprised to discover. Despite its Young Adult label, this book doesn’t hold back from disturbing or gory scenes. Hell, there were nights I didn’t want to go straight to bed after reading it, and I give it props for that.
Another thing I have to praise about this novel is that it addresses numerous social issues – I’m talking racism, classism, sexism – without having the plot and characters defined by such problems. The political commentary is never far off, but Bray never quite shoves it down your throat either. It’s enough to get readers thinking, but not enough to divert their attention from the story. The politics are also discussed in a way that allows us to relate them to those of modern-day America. Lovely how some things never change, isn’t it?
My only minor complaint is in reference to several scenes toward the end. I understand that the ending is supposed to set us up for a sequel, but some of the gruesome moments feel a tad unnecessary (I’m thinking of an animal sacrifice or two). There wasn’t much explanation for these scenes, and I feel like they’re almost there for shock value. Sure, I suppose they could later play in Lair of Dreams – but why not wait until then to include them? Honestly, the very ending of this book provided more questions than answers. Though I’m pumped to learn more about Project Buffalo.
I gave The Diviners a 4.5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I’m so grateful I finally got around to reading this, and I can’t wait to dive into Lair of Dreams. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy, the supernatural, or any well-written combination of the two!
Have you read The Diviners? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!