Author: Libba Bray
Release: September 19th 2012
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Paranormal, YA
#1 in the Diviners quartet
Sequels: Lair of Dreams (#2), Untitled (#3, #4)
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-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.
Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.
It seems to me that, with this novel, Libba Bray set out to combine multiple popular plot points, wrap it into one big novel and have that amaze the masses. The end product, however, fell flat because it just felt overly convoluted with me unable to make heads or tails of it. It is a messy mixture that features too many characters, too many side plots and too many aspects that were supposed to make it super interesting, but instead turned out to be tedious and not worth the time to untangle them all.
For one thing, there is the historical setting of America during the Roaring 20s, a setting Libba Bray put so much effort into that I was simply overwhelmed by it. I'm sure there are lots of readers whose favorite aspect of this book is exactly this setting, but it felt so over the top and overdone to me, like she was shoving it down my throat and I just couldn't deal with the constant stupid language and comments about the clothing, accessories, jobs or whatever. I've had it up to here with phrases like "swell" or "flapper" and if I hear one more word of pictures or a Ziegfeld show, I am going to punch someone's face. It was just way too much. I like a fleshed out setting, a vivid, realistic painting of it, but this? It was TOO unbearably real and after having finished this, I am just, really, really, really glad I wasn't alive during the 1920s, because the way Bray created 1926 NYC made me hate it.
Which brings me right to the characters, especially the main protagonist Evie. You know, I have a thing with Evies in particular, don't we all have that one name that we are just instantly suspicious of anyone who has that name? Because so far, we have had only unpleasant experiences with people who have that name? That's Evie/Evangeline for me. And I feel further justified in my prejudice of everyone bearing that name (no offense), because this Evie was, once again, not for me. Not in the least. She was a shallow, selfish and spoiled party girl who never cared about anything but herself and was as reckless as can be. She was the authority on anything, her word was law, and everyone had to follow her rules. At first, I kind of liked her carefree, daredevil nature, but I'd hoped that over the course of the novel, she would still come around to see reason and get over that type of personality. But no! She never develops beyond being this airheaded brat. Gosh, she had so much potential — I would have loved seeing her evolve into a responsible, sensible young woman, but apparently that was too much to ask for.
The other characters don't develop either, they all retain their stupid personalities for the whole novel, up until the very end, because what's character development? Laughable, it seems. Mabel and Jericho are the only mature characters in this novel (adults aside), but they barely get any screen time, with Jericho only getting kind of important towards the end and Mabel only having a voice for the first half. Theta was interesting, but her violent past was so blatantly glossed over I am left unsure whether to feel offended or not; it never seemed to have any impact on the story except as a sort of prelude or explanation for her romance with another character, and she doesn't take up much time and space, as well. The above mentioned love interest for Theta, Memphis, is probably the most boring character I have come across lately, his story is so far detached from the other characters' storyline, I never could bring myself to care, because I was constantly thinking, "What's the point?" The other characters don't even meet him more than halfway through the book and then only Evie in passing. Only Theta ever interacts with him, and even they only have like three or four scenes.
Needless to say, the romance completely disappointed me, too. Theta and Memphis were unrealistic, especially considering Theta's past experiences with "love" and the fact that they know next to nothing about each other, so this talk of big feelings between them just got me to frown and shake my head emphatically. Sam and Evie's fling, if you can even call it that, was nothing short of creepy and unhealthy, the way Sam is almost obsessed with her and comes up with the most absurd plan to get in a position to keep an eye on her; it was gross. I did tolerate Evie and Jericho in a way, however, here strikes again the case of unrealistic-ness, because Evie doesn't even give Jericho the time of day or look at him before page, I don't know, 450 and then suddenly they're making goo-goo eyes at each other and there's butterflies and so on. It came so out of the blue, I ain't buying it. Still, Jericho was a better match for than Sam, so I was glad for Jericho since Evie's feelings for him mean that she's probably not going to start anything with Sam.
Okay, back to the amalgamation of stuff that is this book. First, as I already mentioned, the smothering, quintessential American setting of 1926 that was so overdone that I didn't feel like it matched the actual atmosphere of the book. This is supposed to be a mystery novel all about the occult and paranormal, but the bubbly, happy-go-lucky tone of the novel never suited this plot and failed to conjure up the matching mood. It failed to set the tone of the plot, and thus, the plot felt silly as a result. Like these murders were nothing of consequence, nothing to worry about; there simply were no stakes at all throughout the whole novel. Which might also be in correlation with the fact that these murders that were promised to me in the blurb don't even show up until approximately 160 pages in, and only ever become personal after another 160 pages. This novel just takes up so much time, time to explore so many different things when it really should have just focused on one thing. There's the historical setting, the paranormal abilities of all these so-called Diviners, the cult, the murders, the characters, ... It all made my head spin, trying to keep up all the while still trying to keep a single spark of interest. And, I'm sorry to say, it was either one or the other. And in that process, I fear that my interest went off somewhere else.
Libba Bray just took on too much when she came up with this novel. It reminded me of so many individual books and plots that, individually, I loved. Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star was one, for instance, for obvious reasons which I GUESS are somewhat spoilery so I won't mention them, but also of Cat Winters' In the Shadow of Blackbirds, with all these occultist aspects, which, by the way, I am sure this book might even have flourished in the hands of Winters, since this seems like something she might have written. Oh well. And, of course, The Great Gatsby, which I personally have not read yet but even I, with my limited public knowledge of it, could see that this book reeked of it, and not only because of the same setting. To name but a few.
Ultimately, I forced myself through this whopper with its (almost) 600 pages, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed maybe 50 of those pages. I admit to having skimmed some chapters, especially Memphis' chapters because they could not for the life of me capture my interest for even a split second. I'll throw a bone here and say that I liked the part before the final climax, however, I also have to say that I think the climax was a bit underwhelming with how the resolution came so easy after all. I felt a little cheated, to say the least. As of right now, I have zero interest in reading the sequel, but we will see. Maybe one day, I'll feel compelled to read it, but for now, no thanks.