Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Diviners

The Diviners
by Libba Bray
Recommended Ages: 14+

Being banished from her hometown of Zenith, Ohio to spend a few months with her eccentric uncle in New York City isn't much of a punishment for would-be flapper Evie O'Neill. But the fall of 1926 turns out to be a dangerous time, especially for a girl whose behavioral problems are connected with the spirit world. As curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult - popularly known as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies - Uncle Will has a velvet-rope pass to the police investigation of a series of gruesome murders that seem to involve the occult. Evie joins Will, his handsome assistant Jericho, and an irrepressible pickpocket named Sam to lend their aid, and partly through Evie's gift of seeing the history of objects when she holds them, they realize the killer is actually a ghost.

Naughty John, a.k.a. Mr. Hobbes, is more than just any ghost, however. He is the chosen one of doomsday cult that was willing to sacrifice all its original members, and many innocent people to boot, to bring on Armageddon. Being hanged, dead, and buried 50 years ago for the first half of his planned series of sacrificial murders hasn't stopped him from coming back and carrying on. Now the victims include a leading chorus girl from Ziegfeld's follies, a young trumpet prodigy on the rise in the jazz world, and more. Even besides John Hobbes, another threat is looming on the horizon that will require all the Diviners - people like Evie, whoever they may be - to join forces. Meantime, Naughty John's naughtiness must be stopped before a certain comet passes over Manhattan, only days away. The Ghostbusters faced nothing like this: an angry, hateful force of occult belief allied to a cruel intelligence. It really seems Evie may lose her uncle, the boy she loves, her most sacred memory, and even her heart - I mean her literal, beating heart - sooner than stop this menace.

I enjoyed Evie's outgoing, flapper spirit and the historical recreation of 1926 New York. I truly had creepy crawlies while reading about the evil of John Hobbes. There were several other attractive characters as well, characters whose connection to each other will (I trust) become more apparent in future installments. One thing this book could have done without is the long, portentous, but essentially anticlimactic coda - two entire chapters, if I remember correctly, after the end of the book. On the scale of a fairly long novel, however, and one whose pace was seldom exactly hell-for-leather, it's not a big problem; and it does set the hook for the sequel.

This is the first book of the "Diviners" series. So far, it is followed by Lair of Dreams and, released as recently as October 2017, Before the Devil Breaks You. I picked this book up along with its immediate sequel last weekend at a Publisher's Warehouse outlet on the other side of the Lake of the Ozarks. I then decided I couldn't wait to read the first one, even though I was in the middle of another book; devouring it in two evenings, I went straight into the sequel without pausing to pick up the book I had put down unfinished.

Bray is also the author of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, comprising A Great and Terrible Beauty, The Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. My only previous Libba Bray reading experience was an audiobook of this last title, though I believe I have the other two on my bookshelf. I'm reconsidering my longstanding opinion that they'll keep just fine where they are. Bray's other young-adult novels include the Michael L. Printz "best book" award winner Going Bovine, Beauty Queens, and It's Just a Jump to the Left.

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