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
The Diviners in a single word: atmospheric.
Although this book is ostensibly about a serial killer and a group of teenagers with supernatural talents, it’s really about the 1920s, more specifically, the Roaring Twenties in New York City, USA. The Diviners doesn’t exist outside of this setting; or maybe it would, but it would be a much different and greatly inferior story because of it. The time period becomes a character itself in this novel, and the primary conflict of the story—the efforts of a hip, young group of supernatural detectives to apprehend an ancient killer called Naughty John—can actually be reduced to a historical conflict marking this era, the dissonance between progress and tradition. Naughty John, and many people in this period, view the future as a forbidding place full of sin while our heroine Evie and her teenaged friends embrace the prospect of limitless progress. Masterfully, Bray refuses to favor one side of this conflict over the other. While the old-fashioned ways supported by Naughty John are clearly incorrect, the progress heralded by the youth is wrong as well, as evinced by Bray’s inclusion of a eugenics movement side plot. Bray perfectly juxtaposes these two belief systems and captures the mood marking their division.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book for its exploration of the aforementioned theme, but there are still a few flaws, mostly flaws of excess. There are too many characters, all of them terribly interesting, but besides Evie, I never knew whose story this was. It jumped around, and when it seemed that Bray would finally unite her characters, it was a false alarm. Bray was such a tease in a way, introducing a character with an intriguing backstory and then never discussing him or her again. Bray’s other crime of gratuitousness is the length of this tome. It’s LONG, much too LONG. In particular, as I neared the end, all I wanted was a climax. Finally, hark a climax appears! but then I had to suffer through interminable pages of denouement. I would’ve appreciated a good curtailing; there are a ton of ideas and characters and mythologies crammed in this book, and at times, it was simply too much.
Despite these flaws, I’m totally invested in this world and cannot wait for the sequel. Even though I know I’ll forget many of the finer plot details and minor characters, this read will persist for a while because of the general feeling it evoked in me. Featuring both gorgeous, authentic language—which many reviewers complained of being over-the-top but I found perfectly suitable; where else could I learn the slang term “elephant’s eyebrows”?—and the glamorous ambience of this historical era, The Diviners, in a somewhat oxymoronic fashion, both romanticizes and realistically represents New York City in the Roaring Twenties.
Readalikes: The nonfiction novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, which examines the work of a serial killer during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Creepy and cool, it captures the same discordance between tradition and progress.