I have a lot of opinions about this book.
The Diviners was my introduction to Libba Bray’s writing. I have been told by one of my librarian friends I would love Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. However, I never got around to it. Which is extra disappointing considering how much I disliked The Diviners. Because now, I might never pick up another Libby Bray book again. (Just like you, Beth Revis. I am lookin’ at you too.)
I’m a librarian, not an oracle.
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her hometown because she made a mistake: She showed off her supernatural power at a party. Evie holds an item belonging to someone and can divine their secrets. Banished to NYC, Evie spent the summer with her uncle, Will, who studies the paranormal and occult. As series of murders begin to occur involving cryptic symbols and brands. The police pull Will into the investigation. Evie can’t resist, and jumps in to help solve these murders.
There is nothing more terrifying than the absoluteness of one who believes he’s right.
It sounds interesting. 1926 NYC where the paranormal are coming to a head for some reason. The Diviners are people with supernatural powers, and there seems to be a great evil loose in the world. However, I spent the entire book being bored.
My largest criticisms of this book can be summed up in two words: Bloated and Vague.
Bloated: This book is overly long, with too many characters, and pointless strands of story and subplots. In fact, I firmly believe over a third of this book could be cut out and the book would be improved. Bray has us jumping narration perspectives frequently. Sometimes mid-chapter. The characters are interesting, but it feels like we’re learning a lot of things that won’t be relevant until later (probably MUCH later) books. This made it difficult for me as a reader to identify what was important, and I felt like we were clumsily thrust into backstory at random intervals. It made for uncomfortable reading.
In them she saw the sham of her life laid out like a book, the foolish believe that she, that anyone, could escape the consequences of this world, could flee from death. That was the deceit. The true serpent in the garden.
(Bloated quotes, even!)
Bray also took charge of her 1926 NYC world-building in a way that was distracting and felt forced. Slang was overused and poorly explained. I had to look up quite a bit of slang, as well as many references. I felt like things were thrown in for the sake of proving how much research she did, and didn’t really add to the world itself. More like world-telling, instead of world building. And, while I appreciate knowing that Bray did her research, and she really understood NYC 1926, it frustrated me.
Vague: So much of this story was vague. We had vague world-building (world-telling), and vague back stories, and vague side plots and vague storytelling in general. This goes back to including too much information that wasn’t relevant. It wasn’t relevant because things were so vague. It was frustrating to see such a promising premise and story arc (over the entire series) buried under unfulfilling leads. In fact, the main plot of the story was so poorly identified that I didn’t realize we were focusing on Evie, Will, and Jericho solving the murder mystery. I thought that the finding of The Diviners themselves was the focus, and then I thought it was the relationship building, and then… well, the fact that I was annoyed by the main plot until I realized it was the main plot is an issue.
In fact, I have a huge beef with the main story line. I just didn’t think it was compelling. In the first chapter, the reader learns who is murdering everyone. This makes solving the murders uninteresting to me as the reader. Somewhere around 60%, once our protagonists even solve who the murderer is, I became completely interested. Well, maybe only slightly interested. Because, I thought, as this book is called The Diviners, that we would get to meet them and learn about their powers and purpose. I held on to that hope that eventually we would remotely acknowledge the common thread all our characters share. … Nope. They are a blip on the radar for this story.
There were few things worse than being ordinary, in Evie’s opinion. Ordinary was for suckers.
Our characters, while interesting and diverse, are also vague. They lack subtlety and dimensionality. It was easy to pigeon-hole these characters into standard YA character troupes. Since things were so vague, that’s what I did. Nothing ended up surprising me about their development. Depressing.
There are some redeeming aspects to this book. I really enjoy Bray’s writing. While she might have overdone the 20’s slang (and how!), I loved Bray’s turns of phrase. I found myself really enjoying the way Bray’s words were put together. Not consistently, but at least a dozen times a chapter, I was highlighting just because the sentence I had read was beautiful. Or it conveyed some truth about growing up that I knew innately, but I didn’t realize until reading those words.
“Evangeline,” Will said with a sign. “Charity begins at home.” “So does mental illness.”
I also love our diverse cast of characters. We have characters of different races, sexual preferences, and socio-economic backgrounds. While they were predictable and fairly flat, I appreciate how Bray is trying to create a truly American novel.
Alas, these two lights were not enough to eliminate the darkness of this book. I was so frequently bored I would have stopped around 15% if it wasn’t for my book club conversation. This book was a complete miss for me, even though it held promise of many things I enjoy in my literature. I definitely will not be continuing this series.