The second book in The Diviners series comes out soon. With this in mind, it seemed like The Diviners #1 was worth a re-read. I absolutely love Libba Bray. I think she writes fascinating female characters who are deeply engaged with the frustrations, limitations and possibilities of whichever time period she has chosen to write in. She constructs immersive worlds that weave easily through fantasy and reality. (Go read her entire back catalogue and come back to this review when you’re done)
An evil force has sprung up in New York. Heinous murders are committed and bodies missing limbs are left covered in mysterious symbols. Meanwhile a young flapper run wild – Evie O’Neill – is banished by her parents from Ohio to stay with her uncle at his Museum of the Creepy Crawlies (occult studies, etc) in New York as a punishment for her behaviour. Her parents believe that she has been spreading slanderous rumours about a local young man, but Evie knows everything she claimed is true. When Evie holds an object and concentrates, it tells her its owner’s secrets.
Life starts for Evie once she arrives in New York. She’s clever, a drama queen and seeking fun over all else. She wants to dive headfirst into all that life can offer her, so New York is the best thing that could have happened. I loved getting to know Evie. She’s complicated. Her brother, James died during the First World War and her family have never recovered from his loss. She’s often torn between being the confident, dramatic, snarky personality that she is and being the good, quiet girl she knows that the people around her would prefer. She can be selfish, and some of her actions in the book made me cringe as a result.
She wants to be famous and is at times ruthless in the pursuit of that goal. She strikes up a very ill-advised deal with a journalist. She knows how to take advantage of a situation.
Horrifying occult-style murders happening across the city? An opportunity to get more tourists into the museum. If that opportunity also means getting herself in the papers? All the better.
There is a real sense of the abandonment of the values of the previous generation running throughout the book. Theta, a young dancer has run to New York away from her abusive husband. She’s moved in with her best friend, Henry (he’s her brother, as far as the landlord is concerned), a piano player and gay. Memphis has turned away from the church he was brought up in because he can’t see the relevance of it in his life. He writes poetry about the future he wishes to have.
Libba Bray writes about navigating a world ruined by the very people who were supposed to save it: A world in which traditional values are seemingly meaningless in the aftermath of the grief and loss of the First World War; where you never know when the rug is going to be pulled out from under you so you may as well dance on it. A world in which the present can barely stand under the weight of its own history – and in fact may be destroyed by it. Evie and co. must fight the forces of evil threatening to take over the city while negotiating their own pre-ordained fates. I can’t wait for the sequel.