Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 4 October 2013
Why did I take so long to read this?
Oh, Vanessa, you foolish girl. I remember reading this book on and off on my commute to university, and then for whatever reason, putting it down and picking it back up again at odd intervals. It's not that it wasn't holding my interest - simply put it down to me being very easily distracted.
Then I got back into reading it over my holidays and could not put it down. At all. Then after I got home, I put it down again and picked it back up only a few days ago.
The Diviners is an extremely well-researched historical fantasy novel, steeped in the supernatural and with a wonderful cast of characters. It's immensely enjoyable, well-written, and suspenseful.
The book begins in the roaring '20s, with Evangeline `Evie' O'Neill, being sent away from her boring hometown in Ohio to her uncle in New York, who curates the Museum of American Folklore, otherwise known as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies, along with his assistant Jericho Jones. To Evie, this is her ticket to freedom, an excuse to party hard, and drink as much `giggle water' as possible.
It seems to me from reading reviews that Evie is either loved or loathed. She can't go half a sentence without flinging in some 1920s slang, and she can be rather ditzy and self-centred. However, she is also courageous, adorable, and hilarious to read. I mean, she sealed the deal for my favourite character spot the moment she kneed an overzealous admirer in the nuts with this exchange towards the beginning:
`"You can't blame a fella for kissing the prettiest girl in New York, can you, sister?" Sam's grin was anything but apologetic.
Evie brought her knee up quickly and decisively, and he dropped to the floor like a grain sack. "You can't blame a girl for her quick reflexes now, can you, pal?"'
No, no, don't worry - I don't base my judgements on whether or not a character is awesome because she can roundhouse kick a man into submission, but Evie's conduct just before is quite amusing, saying she's coming to New York to be a nun, getting more and more irritated with Sam's advances. She's also confident and charismatic, able to charm the socks off anyone she sees, like T.S. Woodhouse, the young journalist investigating the Pentacle Killings and receiving tips on the sly from her as she smirks and basks in the attention. What's this? A three-dimensional female character in a YA novel who doesn't turn to putty in the hands of love interest #1 or #2, who knows she's anything but plain and has her head seriously screwed on despite her public appearance as a featherbrained flapper? YES.
The main plot of The Diviners revolves around.... well, the Diviners. These are people with special psychic powers, who seem to have all gathered in New York. In fact, towards the end of the book, the main murder mystery takes a backseat, as clues are divulged more and more, leading to a rather satisfying ending with the promise of a brilliant sequel.
While it is satisfying in that regard, I had been following the Pentacle Killings. You know, Naughty John, the ghost who is ritually murdering people in exceedingly gruesome and terrifying ways? Who whistles and sings whilst he's hacking people to bits? (The multiple viewpoints angle this novel has is really quite good - I really loved getting to know certain characters, and the heightened sense of fear and panic that follows when you read them hearing that peculiar whistling or that singing. No! Not poor Ruta! Not poor little Tommy!)
It seems as if Bray became a little more interested in X (the storyline building up to the Diviners in the sequel) as opposed to Y (the Pentacle Killings, which I mention we have been following for the past 400 pages) towards the end of the novel.
The aforementioned scenario is very hastily resolved, with Evie and Jericho taking off for Naughty John's haunted house in New York and being split up, with Evie having to keep her wits about her despite her utter terror at the prospect of potentially being another one of Naughty John's victims. While I really did like the sense of fear seeping through the page, and was completely and utterly hooked... it kind of lost its steam when Evie was able to defeat him with - well, I don't wish to spoil it, but it didn't live up to expectation.
1920s New York is stunningly realised in The Diviners. Everything about New York here is written in the most immersive way possible - the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people walking around. It's not just some bland background the characters plod down as they go from one point to another, which I am extremely grateful for. That's true escapism there. If a book can provide such great entertainment by pulling me out of reality, then sign me up.