Just finished The Diviners today and it is definitely a compelling story set in an interesting time period – the Roaring Twenties. And it is about fascinating (though occasionally disgusting) paranormal events. But I hate to say it, the book just isn’t as good as it should be.
The Diviners’ diminished impact stems primarily from stretches where the research was so good that Libba Bray couldn’t resist putting in all of her discoveries. The result is a novel which clocks in at almost 600 pages, a good number of which are non-essential to moving along an otherwise thrilling tale.
There are also odd descriptive elements – such as an anthropomorphic wind – that are convenient for linking scenes but do not really add much to the tale. Granted, it may be that the wind takes on a much more important role in the second book, Lair of Dreams, as varied dark forces rise across the land, but I doubt it.
Yet that’s not to say that this is a bad book, not at all.
In fact, the overall structure of the book is solid and the tale is a complete one but which also leaves room for further adventures of its ensemble cast. Further, Bray always delivers on witty dialogue and surprisingly complex emotional motivations for characters that would be flat and cookie-cutter in the hands of a lesser writer.
Take the emotional center, the vivacious Evie O’Neill, formerly of Zenith, Ohio, who has come to Manhattan to live with her Uncle Will. She is the quintessential teenager coming of age in the Jazz Age, all brashness and go, go, go attitude. Evie could have easily been a shell of a person, much as Daisy Buchanan was in The Great Gatsby, but ends up being much braver and tender-hearted than the flapper persona she works so hard at creating. Through her lens, this tale of ghosts and murders feels like an adventure closer to the action pulps of the day rather than a horror tale of the Lovecraftian persuasion it could have been.
Also, there is a good deal of mystery surrounding Evie’s Uncle Will and his connection to Sister Margaret Walker, industrialist Jake Marlowe, and con-man Sam Lloyd through a mysterious Project Daedalus. Just enough about the Project is leaked along the way by another character, Jericho Jones, so that one ends up naturally anticipating the unfolding backstory of these characters. Rarely does a series of this nature (horror bordering on paranormal fantasy) get a reader excited about the next installment unless the original plot is unfinished or there is a heavy romance angle left unresolved.
Bray also has a fun promotional website for this series at NOVL: http://thenovl.com/thedivinersseries