Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review: The Diviners - Libba Bray

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Series: Diviners #1
Genre: YA, historical fantasy, mystery, supernatural, thriller
Published on September 18, 2012
Published by Little Brown
Pages: 578
Read From: 1.5.13 - 1.14.13

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-tute-ly ecstatic. It's 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. 
Evie worries he'll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. 
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened. . . .


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes. Call me weird, but an eye insignia on the front of a navy-blue background catches my interest. It indicates conspiracies, mystery, secret societies. And those always make for good stories. Or really weird ones. And I’ll say right now that this was, by far, the absolutely weirdest book I have ever read, and I’ve read quite a few weird ones.

Characters: This was flaw Number One of this book: none of the characters are likable. And in a book that has about ten different protagonists - maybe more; I didn’t count, - one should be able to like at least one of them. Evie O’Neill, the main protagonist, is selfish, spoiled, frivolous, immature, causes a lot of her own problems by making very stupid decisions, and in short the sort of protagonist I hate. That said, I have to admit that there was something about her vivacity and spunk that I did find somewhat appealing. She was a genuine flapper girl, and I have to admit that when I was a teenager, I wanted to be a flapper (albeit a well-behaved one). Still, I can’t say that I liked Evie. I was able to tolerate her, and if it weren’t for the story’s other flaws, I would have been okay with this. But I so desperately wanted a character that I could actually like! Sam Lloyd was kind of funny, but I didn’t care much about him, or Jericho. Theta had too many problems, Henry . . . Well, he had problems, too, and Memphis was just plain two-dimensional - not to mention pointless. I kept waiting for him to do something useful - something important, - and he never did. I liked Naughty John - the villain - from the standpoint that he was a genuinely creepy dude, but even he had his flaws (more on that later). Mabel was okay, but a bit of a stick in the mud, and a socialist.

The Romance: The promised love triangle between Jericho, Evie, and Sam wasn’t horribly prominent in this installment of the series, which I was glad. Jericho, I’ll admit, would be good for Evie. He might calm her down, make her a bit more mature and responsible. While the relationship between her and Sam just seemed like a “really good friends” sort of relationship. Almost a brother-sister attachment. I could see this love triangle getting very annoying in the future.

Plot: Serial murders in 1926 New York City! A creepy, mysterious guy called Naughty John! Characters with mysterious powers that sometimes do more harm than good! Sounds exciting, right? Especially the murder part - I love murder mysteries that take place in an exciting era like 1926. Well, if the plot hadn’t been so massively steeped in Satanic powers and evil, vengeful spirits manifesting the Beast on Earth through ritualistic sacrifices, the plot might have appealed to me more. For people who aren’t bothered by demonic imagery, they will probably really enjoy the plot, but I personally have an issue with such stuff, especially considering how immersed The Diviners was in it. I couldn’t read this book before bed, and it isn’t because I am easily scared. It left me disturbed in a wholly negative way; I didn’t want my dreams filled with such dark, downright evil imagery. Naughty John is genuinely scary, as I said, and it’s because he is spirit accidentally released during a party, and Naughty John goes about his Satanic business, trying to bring about Armageddon and manifest the Beast to devour sinners. The fact that this was literal, and not just some crazy killer pretending to have mystical, demonic powers, is what made it too much. It’s one thing to have a serial killer who thinks he can call down demons, or is trying to convince the world that he can, and it’s another to actually have spirits and demonic powers at work. That said, I’ll admit that the story wasn’t boring. At 578 pages, one might suspect that the story lags, and the book probably could have been edited down by a few 100 pages (considering how little Memphis does, most of his scenes could have been cut). But it isn’t really necessary, because it doesn’t screech to a halt at any point. I kept wondering what would happen next, who would be killed next - because this Author isn’t afraid to kill somewhat prominent characters off, - and just in general, curious to see how much weirder things would get.

Believability: We’re dealing with spirits and demons and supernatural powers; believability isn’t entirely applicable.

Writing Style: This is where the story won. It is very clear that the Author was in love with the era she set the story in. Her writing made the 1920s pop and sparkle in such a way that I was completely swept away. She was spot on with the slang, and the air thrummed with the jazz beat and old classic radio songs. Really, the writing surprised me; from the very first sentence, I was captivated. However. The Author also suffered greatly from interjecting her personal opinions throughout the story. She hammered every possible minority issue that she could with no respite, and she attacked practically every form of Christianity, portraying the Christians the protagonists encountered as either completely batty or judgmental, rude, and violent to the point of being criminal. None of her protagonists believed in God, and every single one of them made a point to make comments to the effect of, “What’s the point? God can’t exist because he won’t give me handouts and won’t fix all of my problems.” For someone who doesn’t seem to care for sermons, she sure as heck does a lot of preaching. She hits all of the big issues: gays, abortion, racial abuse, religious intolerance, unions (in support, naturally), rich people and industry, eugenics - all of the big tickets. While I agree with the characters on eugenics being ridiculous, it was also an unnecessary addition; the scene in which eugenics is addressed is completely pointless and seemed to only be there so the Author could preach about something else - as if she hadn’t done enough of that already. While writing about certain eras, I realize that certain issues cannot be totally ignored. Set a story in William Wallace-era Scotland, you can’t ignore the general Scottish opinion of the conquering English. But there’s a difference between acknowledging the era’s political and social issues and getting on top of a wagon and raging against it.

Content: 1 g--damn. The Author addresses a lot of delicate things in the book: physical abuse, abortion, homosexuality, hallucinogenic drugs, gristly murders, and of course spiritualism. For the most part, she doesn’t go into details, except with the spiritualism. I have expressed already my thoughts on the demonic imagery, and I will just stress again that on this point she doesn’t shy away from dark and nightmarish descriptions. For anyone who is bothered by such things, they’ll definitely be disturbed by it.

Conclusion: To be fair, the Author blessedly didn’t drag out the final showdown between Naughty John and the protagonists, and she wraps up each important character’s stories in a very neat manner, setting the stage for the sequel with lots of foreshadowing. It makes for a tidy and comprehensive end, and I did like that. But my overall thoughts on the book: the writing style was beautiful - I absolutely adored it. But the book is filled to the brim with Satanic content, the Author gets preachy to a point that it feels like she’s hitting her Readers over the head with a sledgehammer, and none of the characters are especially likable.

Recommended Audience: For people who aren’t disturbed by demonic imagery and don’t mind the Author inserting her own opinions, they’ll be able to enjoy this book, because it is a good mystery and the 1920s are brought to life with amazing descriptions. Girl-and-guy read, older teens due to content and imagery.

Others in This Series:
1)The Diviners
2)Lair of Dreams

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