April 3013 Book of the Month Review

Book of the Month for Beyond the Circle, April 2013, by Jessie Peacock

THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

(Author website: http://thedivinersseries.com/)

Although I am a voracious reader and a writer, I am not much of one to watch book trailers. But this one… well, you need to watch this trailer. It gives you the feel of the book AND gives you a melody to the Naughty John ditty, which I desperately wanted while I was reading. So watch it. I’ll wait.


 

“Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.”

Here’s the summary of the book from the author website:

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.

This young adult (YA) paranormal book was both stellar and disappointing, all rolled into one. THE DIVINERS had me wrapped around its pinkie. Somehow, the author got me to root for a protagonist (Evie) whom I really didn’t like and never came to like. She is shallow and selfish and thoughtless. I still wanted her to win. I read every possible moment, sneaking five minutes while brushing my teeth or stirring pasta on the stove.

This book has historical, paranormal, and horror elements. Bray built the world with a steady, capable use of slang from 1920s Manhattan. We get flappers, speakeasies, mysticism, race relations, and more. My immersion into the Roaring Twenties was complete. At the same time, the book was satisfyingly creepy. It didn’t terrify me, but it gave me some delicious chills at times. Libba Bray’s website includes some webisodes about the creepy New York locations featured in the book.

Our villain is a ghost from a xenophobic religious cult trying to rise back to power by sacrificing victims (sinners) to earn God’s favor in a gruesome way as a comet passes overhead. Another paranormal aspect I liked was an ancient sinister mansion that has become almost sentient, and of course evil. Also, Evie practices psychometry, or object-reading. She can tell from your hat if you knocked up a chamber girl, or she can tell from your shoe buckle if your murderer sang a creepy song in the last awful moments of your life.

All that said, I think the author was working so hard on setting this up as the first book of a series, she sacrificed the storytelling for this book. Many sub-plots and minor characters were developed but had no ultimate bearing on this novel. The denouement of this book tried to get me excited about a vague, mystical challenge to come, which MIGHT finally bring these characters together, but… it didn’t work.

But the plot points of this book, the descriptions, the atmosphere—all were expertly written.

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