Sunday, 30 September 2012

YA Book Review: 'The Diviners' by Libba Bray

The Diviners
by Libba Bray

Published: September 18th, 2012
Publisher: Atom Books
Source: Received from Publisher
Format: Hardback
Pages: 578

Cover Art

Beautiful. Love it. I was lucky enough to receive the hardback for review and it was so pretty. Just look at the inside pages:


Plot Synopsis

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.

My Rating:

First Line:

'In a town house at a fashionable address in Manhattan's Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.'

Pocket-Size Review

The rip roaring 20's is in full swing in 'The Diviners'...sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Highs: The characters are exuberantly unique, the scary bits are terrifying and you can tell that Bray absolutely revels in writing New York in the 1920's...and her passion comes across.
Lows: It is rather overwritten at times, which made it too long, and it is very slow at the beginning. Also, at times the narrative shifts were irritating.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

- 'The Second Coming' by W.B Yeats

Libba Bray begins 'The Diviners' with a quote from 'The Second Coming' by W.B Yeats so I thought I would do the same! I feel that Bray used this poem as the basis of her novel, and takes Yeats's vision literally. The poem describes chaos arriving on a 'blood-dimmed tide', and the approach of a 'rough beast' to unleash anarchy on the world. This novel definitely has the blood and the anarchy and, indeed, the rough beast risen from hell itself. As well as Yeats, I also spied the influence of T.S Eliot's 'The Wasteland' in this quote, taken from a scene when a groupof college students are playing with a Ouija board:

'Finally, there is movement on the board. "," the hostess reads aloud.'

I couldn't help but be reminded of this section from 'The Wasteland':

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow 
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only 
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, 
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, 
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only 
There is shadow under this red rock, 
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock), 
And I will show you something different from either 
Your shadow at morning striding behind you 
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; 
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

- 'The Waste Land' by T.S Eliot

The paranormal and spiritual become entwined with the reality of Manhattan in the 1920's and the result is definitely something I will never forget.

I will certainly never forget Naughty John. His theme tune is repeated again and again, and is a motif that signals danger in the novel:

"Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells 'em off for a coupla stones."

Naughty John genuinely terrified me. His house bleeds and he has a 'chamber of horrors'. He is horrific and unnatural and exudes pure evil. This is not just a is Satan himself. I love a proper evil villain. Someone who is completely psychotic and there is no way you can reason with them. They are intelligent, merciless and grotesque. That is Naughty John and I got the creeps whenever he came on the scene. With his trickery and confusing presence, he definitely reminded me of the Satan from 'Master and Margarita'; he is hellish and you lose your mind with terror when he approaches. He feels genuinely unstoppable, which is what excited me. 

Libba Bray is extremely ambitious with the scope of this novel. She sets it firmly in the 1920's under the bright lights of Manhattan amongst the flappers, speakeasies and burgeoning jazz music. In the age that has been broken by WW1, prohibition has meant a whole secret world has opened up under the floorboards of New York. Evie, the girl from a small town who just wants to wear lipstick and sequins and see her name in bright lights, is thrilled when she learns she will be moving in with her Uncle. Cue the Charleston and drop-waisted dresses and peacock feather headbands. It is a riot, but it also feels forced at times. Every cliche you can think of about this time period is thrown in, and after a while it starts to feel very contrived. The 1920's slang feels painfully forced at times, with every other word being 'hooch' or 'And how!' Evie's catchphrase of 'Posi-tute-ly' also grated after a few uses. However, I do like the fact that Evie is haunted by her loss in the war, as it provided a sinister underbelly to the seemingly frivolous behaviour of Evie and society in general, but I wish there had been more of that.

The characters are all extremely unique and unpredictable. I found myself getting to know all of them, and caring about them. From the fun-loving, frivolous Evie to the glamorous and cynical Theta, to the strong and haunted Memphis to the wolfish rascally Sam, I felt I knew them all and wondered what they would do next. Although the character development of all of them meant that the story took a while to get going (a bit too long in my opinion), when it did get off the ground I was utterly absorbed and could not put it down towards the end. There is a constant threat in the air that *something* is coming, and you always feel that the side plots and characters are all pieces of a humongous puzzle that will be revealed. Something sinister and terrible is on its way, and although this novel doesn't provide all the answers, I am still hopeful that Bray will deliver a magnificent solution in the sequels.

Overall, this was an unforgettable and unique novel that I did, for the most part, really enjoy! I connected with the characters and found that I became really engrossed in the story. It is a long and dense read that is chock full of religious references and 1920's slang, and really isn't easy or simple to read. There are some very complicated moral and philosophical issues discussed, and Nietzsche is quoted more than once. Libba Bray never patronises of writes down to her audience, and that is what I love about her. I will be checking out the sequel, and how.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: I have now read two books by Libba Bray and I would like to try the Gemma Doyle books next!

Memorable Quotes: 

'Theta arched a thread-thin eyebrow. "Everybody in New York's from someplace else."

'For only the chosen shall rise with the Beast. And the world fall to ash.'

"Don't be put off by my appearance, my dear. I am only beginning to manifest."

His arms and neck had been branded with strange tattoos, symbols she didn't understand. The symbols rippled and bulged. His flesh moved as if something slithered just underneath. The fear could only find voice in her first language, and so she whispered the prayers in Polish.

The man frowned. "Prayers? I thought you were a modern girl for a modern age."

The wind skitters down the Bowery...until it comes to rest outside the ruin of an old mansion. Moldering boards cover the broken windows. Rubbish clogs the gutter out front. Once upon a time, the house was home to an unspeakable evil. Now it is a relic of a bygone era, forgotten in the shadow of the city's growth and properity.

The door creaks on its hinges. The wind enters cautiously. It creeps down narrow hallways that twist and turn in dizzying fashion. Diseased rooms, rotted with neglect, branch off left and right. Doors open onto brick walls. A trapdoor gives way to a chute that empties into a vast subterranean chamber of horrors and an even more terrifying room. It stinks still: of blood, urine, evil, and a fear so dark it has become as much a part of the house as the wood and nails and rot. 

Something stirs in the deep shadows, something terrible, and the wind, which evil knows well, shrinks from this place. It flees toward the safety of those magnificent tall buildings that promise the blue skies, nothing but blue skies, of the future, of industry and prosperity; the future, which does not believe in the evil of the past. If the wind were a sentinel, it would send up the alarm. It would cry out a warning of terrors to come. But it is only the wind, and it knows well that no one listens to its cries.

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.

Three Words to Describe this Book: Scary, Roaring, Overwritten.

But Don't Take My Word For It...

  • Blog Reviews of  'The Diviners': 

'Though it is not without its stumbling points and is an unnecessarily protracted novel that could use a good slimming-down, The Diviners is chock-full of potential. I’ll be around for the second installment – you can hang your hat on that.'

 'I devoured this book and read it in a couple of days, hating each time I had to put it down to sleep or eat, or any of those pesky things.'


  1. I kind of love that Bray's books aren't easy to read in that regard-that they make you think. I'm really looking forward to this one, the setting sounds wonderful, I love that Naughty John sounds genuinely scary and that the characters are unpredictable. I'm interested to see what you think of Gemma Doyle-I liked that series enough to read them all, but never really liked Gemma all that much.

  2. The Diviners sounds like a wonderful, mysterious read. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Although it seems to have dragged on, I've heard that the overabundance of description really helps the reader get into the mood of 1920's New York. So I'm not quite yet sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I can't wait to meet Evie! I'm still a bit intimidated by the length, but I'll definitely be giving it a go soon.

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