The Diviners by Libba Bray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
YA, suspense, horror, historical fantasy
It is the Roaring ’20s and Evie is a typical 17 year old flapper. She loves to drink gin, dance, and be the center of attention in her cloche hat and string of pearls. Disgraced by a scandal in her hometown, she is sent to live in New York City with her Uncle Will who runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. Evie is ready to live it up under the nose of her professorial Uncle who gets pulled in to consult on some sicko murder cases by the police. She has an amazing power that lets her “read” objects that she touches, be it a glove, a ring, or the shoe buckle of a dead girl. She also gets pulled into the investigation and proves to be quite brave, resourceful, and resilient surprising everyone around her, including herself. She and a band of others work together to take down an evil as old as time. They all have their own agendas, problems, or secrets.
Starting out a shallow, wandering teen, Evie is a great character that really develops over the course of the book. Despite all of the fantastical and horrific events taking place, she is figuring out who she is and what she holds important.
Another great character is Memphis, a young black boy living with his younger brother and oppressively religious aunt. His mother died and his father has been getting settled for many years now and “will send for them soon”. He and his little brother Isaiah also have powers that they have to hide for fear of someone crying Devil. As with Evie, he struggles with some regular issues that a young black man in the 20s might expect to deal with on top of other fantastical issues. We see him struggle, try to be brave, fall in love, and question the religion that surrounds him.
Throughout, Bray has some biting commentary on religion and the American dream. One of the final chapters in the book called The Man in the Stovepipe Hat shows this particularly well:
“In the towns, there were Main Streets of the sort that lined the halls of hazy, fond memory. A church steeple. Barbershop. Ice cream parlor. Town square and a public green perfect for picnicking. Butcher. Baker. Candlestick maker. … In the courthouse under a wheezing ceiling fan, the women’s fingers busied themselves with needlepoint – HOME SWEET HOME, GOD BLESS AMERICA – and their husbands fanned themselves with folded newspapers as an argument droned on about whether man had been fashioned in the image of a master craftsman, wound with a key at the back and set into motion to play his part in a mysterious destiny, preordained, or had crawled from the mud and trees of the jungles, cousin to the beasts, an evolutionary experiment of free will let loose in a world of choice and chance. No verdict was reached.”
Bray’s big theme seems to be how suggestible people are whether it be through religion, advertising, journalism, or trends. One of the chapters is even called People Will Believe Anything.
I am not normally drawn to horror, but I thought this was a really interesting read. Despite being about 600 pages, I read it in about 3 days. Part teenagers with powers, part history, part coming of age, part mystery, part social commentary, and part horror, this really has something for just about everyone. Lots of suspense and Bray’s writing is haunting and poetic at times. I look forward to Lair of Dreams, a sequel, and the 2nd book in what I can only assume will be a series.
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