I read this for the first time back in August 2019 as part of a week-long read-a-thon and I think I got it all wrong. It was the height of summer, I was listening to the audiobook on 2x speed and as you can imagine the result was a sub-par reading experience and a 3-star rating. As I didn’t give this book a fair chance, I decided to give it another go this October.
Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Page count: 578
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fic
Average Goodreads rating: 3.95
My star rating: 4.5
The plan was to read it in the perfect autumnal setting – cosy blankets, candles flickering and dark evenings – and that’s exactly what I did. I also listened along to the audiobook as I read and annotated, so I was giving it 100% of my attention. Here are my thoughts!
The Big Apple
One of the best things about this book is the sense of time and place and the brilliantly crafted world-building throughout. The Diviners is set in New York City in 1926 at the height of the flapper movement before the big crash of 1929. You are thrust into the hedonistic world of 1920s America as it’s youth push against the old-fashioned societal rules that have been restrictive for decades. You also see the realities of the prohibition era, the rise of bizarre new ‘religious’ groups and the ‘pop-culture’ of the time.
In the author’s note Libba Bray explains that she did an exceptional amount of research into the period so that she could get the setting and the dialogue spot on. In my opinion it felt incredibly authentic and just like a time machine – she even mentions the adverts that are displayed throughout the city.
This weather is the bees knees!
Another fantastic aspect of the writing is the atmosphere. The majority of the story is set in late September through to early October and you really do feel the autumnal vibes throughout. Bray mentions the colder, rainy weather, and the leaves changing on the trees just outside the window as well as the amazing 1920s winter fashion that work together to build a lush image in your mind.
A doozy of a plot
Most reviewers mention the plot as the real stand-out here and I agree it’s impressive. Ultimately, the story is far too complicated to explain succinctly but in this alternative history there are people called ‘Diviners’ who have magical/supernatural powers – they can read objects, walk in dreams, see the future etc.
The main narrative arc is that there is a serial killer loose in New York, called ‘Naughty John’ who is ritualistically killing random people for an unknown reason. After a few dreadful murders, and the sense of panic rising, our main character Evie O’Neill, along with her mysterious but brilliant Uncle, begin to investigate the murders to get to the bottom of what’s really going on. It’s perfectly creepy – especially if you listen to the audiobook!
Hey, old sport!
On top of all of that, there is also a full cast of fully developed characters. My highlights include the before-mentioned Evie O’Neill a spoilt party girl who has a true heart and a wicked wit, the mysterious intellect Uncle Will and the even more mysterious young Jericho – who is probably my favourite!
One of the main reasons I wanted to re-read this book was to get to know the characters better as there is quite a few of them and each receive plenty of page time. If you read carefully you’ll learn an awful lot about them.
There’s also quite a bit of representation here including race, queerness and disability but as far as I know it’s not own-voices though I have heard from other own-voices reviewers that it’s fine representation.
Overall, I think this book is an absolute joy for this time of year. The atmosphere, plot and incredible cast of characters work together to keep you entertained throughout the 500+ pages. There is so much detail and foreshadowing that you are left reeling by the end. I’ve already ordered Lair of Dreams and plan to start as soon as possible!
Have you read The Diviners yet? What did you think of it?