Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

“Deep in the cellar of the dilapidated house, a furnace comes to life with a death rattle like the last bitter cough of a dying man laughing contemptuously at his fate. A faint glow emanates from that dark, foul-smelling earthen tomb. Yes, something moves again in the shadows. A harbinger of much greater evil to come. Naughty John has come home. And he has work to do.”

When I first read The Diviners almost three years ago, I was blown away by the vibrant characters and thrilling atmosphere. As I prepared to re-read this book in order to read the sequel, I became plagued with doubts. Was it really as good as I remembered? Would it hold up against a critical eye? Would I be able to continue on with the series? If the rating above is any indication, then the answers are a resounding yes, yes and yes!

Everything that made me fall in love with The Diviners last time is just as mesmerizing this time around. The story is populated with a diverse set, from the witty and charming Evie O’Neill, to the poetic Memphis Campbell, and the flirtatious pickpocket Sam Lloyd, among many others. The novel is set in the dazzling era of 1920s New York, whose presence is so felt, it is almost another character in and of itself– complete with glitz, glamor and just the right amount of danger. The prose is gorgeous, a mixture of haunting and beautiful imagery with sharp dialogue infused with slang from the roaring twenties. And of course, there is the supernatural and all that comes with it: strange dreams, ghosts, and a feeling of uneasiness.

The evil of this story is one of the best I have ever encountered in fiction. Naughty John is a perfect blend of creepy, macabre, and unsettling. Very rarely am I scared by books, but I’d be lying if I said reading this novel during the night wasn’t an eerie experience. But the horror doesn’t stop with just one villain. There are nightmares and cults and dangerous people– The Diviners depicts evil manifesting in various forms, from bigotry to racism and doesn’t shy away from the prejudices of the world in the 1920s.

My favorite thing about this novel, by far, is the aforementioned Evie O’Neill. The book follows multiple perspectives, and while they are all entertaining in their own right, Evie’s is the one I was constantly waiting to get back to. Evie is by no means the perfect girl; her hedonistic lifestyle, penchant for partying and drinking, and occasional self-centeredness make her an extremely flawed protagonist. However, this only makes Evie all the more endearing when she develops as a character. Despite her many flaws, she is also brave, smart, and loyal- a winning combination Evie’s interactions with those around her brighten and elevate the other characters as well. Her relationship with her Uncle Will, his assistant Jericho, and Evie’s best friend Mabel, make them more three dimensional and her more sympathetic. And her relationship with Sam results in some excellent chemistry and swoon-worthy banter.

My only gripe with this novel is at times its complexity- there are many moving parts and plots and characters, and sometimes it gets hard or tiring to follow- why I subtracted a star. There is a touch of instalove, but it does not play a big enough part to detract from the overall story. Though there seems to be hints of love triangle in the future I’ll address that when it happens.

The Diviners has it all- murder, mystery, magic and malevolence, combined with humor, friendship and romance, all under the bright lights of New York City in the 1920s. Now on to Lair of Dreams!

 

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