Friday, 5 October 2012

review: The Diviners

by Libba Bray
Little, Brown BFYR, September 18 2012
young adult historical fantasy
received from publisher (thank you!)

When Evangeline O'Neill is sent to New York as a form of punishment, she's delighted. It's the 1930s, after all, and there are pictures to see, speakeasies to hit up and people to meet. Except no one counted on having murders to solve, and Evie's hidden supernatural power -- one that places her in a growing group of people with powers -- will plant her firmly in danger's path. It's track down the killer... or be tracked down.
The cover:

The hand-drawn touch is dominant here, which fits the religious aspect of the novel's themes very well, as does the eye. Plus, that orange/blue colour scheme never fails. But my favourite part of the cover is the photograph of the city behind the keyhole surrounding the title; it suggest glitz and glamour and shadows and sombreness all at the same time.

The book:

This was not my type of book. The first thing to note is the multitude of characters, and while Libba Bray carries them off successfully (in other words, it's not overwhelming), none of them truly caused me to care about or like them. Admittedly, Evie, as the protagonist, does have a more detailed character, but it feels as though we're supposed to like the other characters based on their sad sob stories of the past alone, and not based on their actual personalities.

Religion is the driving force behind the antagonist, and it works: Naughty John's and his father's fanaticism is portrayed clearly with the omniscient POV scenes. However, this results in a complete loss of mystery; we're no longer held in suspense over who the murderer is. So the reader ends up simply waiting for the next few murders to be discovered and for a solution to be found. Tension still exists in some action scenes, though (particularly one where Evie, Sam Lloyd and Jericho investigate a church by pretending to be a cuckolded husband and wife and cousin).

The best aspects of the book are the setting -- Bray incorporates Roaring Twenties' slang and describes the street scene with skill -- and the romance(s), which are all a little wobbly on their feet and therefore extremely authentic. But the final pages are frustrating: the conclusion seems too quick and neat, and yet a dozen more pages afterward are used to foreshadow future books' conflicts heavy-handedly. ("The storm is coming", intone two crazy cat ladies.)

Finally, the reader knows that the Diviners are this group of people with special powers, but none of the characters realize this fact. Thus, what's the point of the title?

Rating: 3.2 out of 5