Been really busy of late, but I finally found some time to finish Libba Bray’s The Diviners!
And, as always, I wanna talk about it!
So as I mentioned in my initial review, The Diviners is about a group of people who manifest special powers–object reading, healing, augury, cyborg, somebody else’s problem field–and how they come together to stop a supernatural killer.
If this sounds a little all over the place, it is–but don’t fear, the book is about 500 pages and exposition is pretty evenly spaced throughout, so we never feel bogged down and the author breaks us into the world easily, one character at a time. – Actually, I shoulda put that under “The Good!” WEl, use your imagination.
The titular Diviners come in all ages, but all of the main characters are in their late teens, making this a YA. It’s also set in the 1920’s which makes it a period piece and requires some world-building. This setting, particularly since it’s historical, comes with some issues so we’ll talk about that below.
I’d have to say first and foremost, my favorite part of this book is the setting. Libba does a great job of setting the scene in 1920’s New York, and it’s always very visible and vibrant.
And the 1920’s were romantic and beautiful–for some people. For black, Irish, or… pretty much anybody else who wasn’t of Northern European descent, it was kinda shitty. I’ll spare you the details, but a very important part of a period novel is dealing with issues of the time. The author touches on some of these social issues and, I feel, does a pretty good job of presenting unabashed some of the big deals of the era–like segregation or gay rights–without trying to fix them or condemn them.
I also found the characters to be relatable and interesting with plausible problems compounded by their powers. A typical trait of MC’s in YA novels is that they’re too perfect. Not so here. Evie is vain, a little selfish, obstinate, and grieving for a lost loved one. This makes her very interesting because she’s always making mistakes which further the narrative! Everybody’s got personality problems or neuroses–except Theta and Henry, but we don’t explore them too much, so their flaws will probably be discussed later on.
And the plot! The all important plot was a save-the-world affair, common for the YA fantasy genre, but I never found it predictable. I’d have to say the characters and setting are the major driving force. Especially since I know there’s a series coming, this book felt a little like a set-up for the timeline–moving all the pieces in place for the REAL story–but that’s perfectly acceptable! Actually it’s preferable. That’s what The Hobbit was to LoTR.
One more positive note: The Romance–you just can’t sell a YA novel without a romance, can you?–but I found this one refreshing. Evie’s not worried about getting laid, she’s just out for herself and to be noticed. The romance IS in here, but it creeps up on you and only barely manifests toward the end. I found it subtle, believable, and reminiscent of my own early romance experiences.
“A breath of fresh air in a “which-teenager-should-I-pick-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with” market.
The Could Be Better
Of course, no Novel’s perfect and there are always some things we can learn from:
I think my biggest “quibble” is the unresolved minor subplots. Most of these are hardly noticeable, and some will obviously be continued in the next few books. But I’d have to say I was most disappointed by the sudden disappearance of Evie’s alcohol problems. Alcohol is a hell of a drug; it’s something a lot of teens deal with and if you’re dependent upon it, it can literally kill you to stop drinking it.
There are also some Day-in-the-life parts of the narrative where the main characters are doing boring girl-stuff in NYC. It honestly wasn’t that bad because I felt there was tension enough from the plot to see us through those scenes. And who knows–for the target audience of teenaged ladies those might have been highlights!
In the final pages, we get treated to what amounts to an epilogue for each major POV character. This struck me as a little much. Basically we’re being set up for the next book, but I would have preferred to just use my imagination; the drawn out denouement detracts from the impact of the climax.
One final note: POV-wise there is a bit of “head-hopping”–a 3rd person omniscient style in which the narrator gives us facts out of many character’s heads without a clear delineation of when we’re leaving one character and entering another (I found a great post discussing this here). This didn’t used to bother me until a literary agent pointed out that it’s a bad habit of mine. Once she mentioned it, It’s just become one of those things I can’t help but be aware of wherever it pops up. Anyway, I’m only pointing it out because some readers report they find this narrative style “jarring.” It’s mostly isolated, so it shouldn’t stop you reading unless you absolutely hate it.
Libba Bray hasn’t got the greatest skill in writing but what she has got is heart, enthusiasm, and competence. She crafts likeable, flawed characters and puts them in a badass, real-feeling setting. And this book has become one of my new favorites as a result!
Overall, I enjoyed this novel and I look forward to the next one–I also heard somewhere that it’s intended as a five part series, which makes me feel better since my war-on-trilogies rant. Anyway, check it out for yourself, and leave a comment!