Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Diviners Book Review

Rawr Reader,

    Hello there. This is The Diviners by Libba Bray. The synopsis is provided by Goodreads:

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-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.

   I passed by this book so many times at the bookstore, but when I read it was set in the 1920s, I had to get it. Especially after reading Sirens by Janet Fox and loving it, I immediately wanted to return to the era! :)

(safe for those who haven't read this book yet)
    Okay, I'm going to try and be fair with this book, I wanted to like it. The Roaring Twenties. Manhattan. Dreams, lights, parties, mystery, suspense. I needed to love this book. But alas, here I am about to rant. And cry. Why did it have to turn out this way?
   I'd first like to start off with the characters. It takes several chapters, I'd say nearing 100 pages in to establish that we're not following Evie, the main protagonist in this book. So I sat back and consented, that's okay right? Some books like to be third POV omniscient. I beg to differ, Bray loves to jump from one character's mind to another-- back and forth-- IN THE SAME CHAPTER. I almost tore my hair out. If you want to go into another character's mind-- at least separate it in chapters so at least I know who's mind I was in. And maybe that wouldn't even be half a problem if these characters were a little bit characterized. Externally they may look different (though I argue that I didn't even get a good sense of what even Evie looked like until the end!)-- the academic reticent uncle Will, the fame seeking party-goer Evie, the reserved clandestine Jericho, the troublesome pick-pocketer Sam, the seemingly flimsy Theta, the humble submissive Mabel, I could go on since there are a butt load of main characters but none really truly developed. Bray goes into each back story (though it does take her a long time to unravel them so most of the book you're walking in the dark).
   She established the setting and the time, but what about my characters? What do they look like, what are their ages (though I will say she for the most part did give the ages of Evie, Sam and Jericho), do they have scars, any bad habits? For me to truly understand someone, you have to know them. You can't just push a reader into a story thinking they're in the author's head knowing what everyone looks like and how exactly their reacting (though for the most part she did that well, a mix of action and dialogue).
   But I think something she did very well was keep the characters in time, meaning their language. When I read over the dialogue I believed that I was in the 1920s with them. Their expressions and idioms, while I don't know since I wasn't alive then, seemed believable of a time once upon one.
   I will commend Bray on writing suspense and horror. There were a handful of times I had shivers because of the scenes that she described. The first chapter begins it, with the revelation and resurrection so to speak of the villain (sprung from a board game, symbolism perhaps?). 
   But there were too many chapters that I saw the plot going no where. If not to develop the story, then I'd hope they would develop the characters but it was what we already knew of the characters and we weren't learning anything. So for the most part, I found this book a slow read. I may have read it fast, but that was me anxious to be done with the story since I wasn't taking a liking to it from the first 100 pages.
   And certain details of the ending were predictable! But overall, jeez I was hoping that maybe it'll rap up the story lines but nope-- the publishing people probably wanted to make a series out of it so I'll be expecting a sequel in a year or so. And no, I won't be reading it.  
I give this book 2/5 stars.

"The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism."
-Wole Soyinka
My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness  
Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
Illustrated by Jim Kay

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
   Oh my gosh, Bray has a horrible way of describing her characters. Memphis being one of the main ones. I didn't know he was black until 100 or so pages in. I mean, if she wasn't going to say it outright, at least give me some hint by other people's reactions. Because how he acted doesn't let me believe that that how he'd be treated in 1926 Manhattan... Or how about his brother, I could not place a finger on his age and it bugged me the entire book. 
   I want to devote an entire rant to Evie-- I so deeply deeply despised her character. I thought-- well she's shallow and selfish and skin-deep minded now, maybe she'll change by the end. Jokes on me-- because whether she truly didn't change at the end or Bray only set it up that way so that a next book would be already set up so she could "develop" in that one. A couple of examples that just made me hate Evie more at the end: when she exposed herself as a Diviner just to stay in NYC, when she made out with Jericho even though her best friend has practically loved him for years. I mean, I don't think I'd be happy with her with anyone so this point just may be moot. But yes, didn't like her character.
   Some people who's story weren't cleanly explained or wrapped up in the end: Sam with his missing mother (though the end he just got a name as to where to find her-- my argument is why should I care? he was barely present in the stories but only to flirt with Evie or steal from her) and Henry who was looking for someone (apparently he's a Diviner too?). Lillian and Addie, what was their purpose? They lived in the Bennington with Evie and Mabel but they didn't do anything in this book.
   The Diviners (as to my understanding):
  • Evie: when holding an object of said person, she can look into their past and discover whatever secrets may be seen
  • Memphis: hands of healing, but his skill was lost the same day of his mother's death
  • Jericho: super strength -- JUST KIDDING. He isn't a Diviner but part man part robot! Is this a joke? Really? The technology wasn't advanced in the 1920s, I mean they hardly had cars!
  • Henry: could enter a person's dreams
  • Theta: crap I can't remember if she had a gift or not.
  • Blind Bill Johnson: he can generate lightning bolts and shock people (as which he did to Isaiah)
  • Sam: illusions, he can evade a person's sight by simply stating "you can't see me" -- which I chuckle at whilst reading
      By the time I kept reading about these people and their skills, I found it harder and harder to believe that no one in the entire world hadn't been discovered yet. Especially in NYC where the strange is normal. Like I'm sure they would have had some of these "Diviners" would have exposed themselves and claimed it was the black arts or such.
    And then there's the other characters who I had trouble putting my finger on. Will Fitzgerald (Evie's uncle) who knows more than he's telling about the Diviners. And Sister Walker who knew of Isaiah's and possibly Memphis's talents yet did nothing about it but continued to test them. She didn't even try to recruit them to some Diviners camp or such. The chapter with Mary White confused me so much, at first I thought it was about the daughter but then no it was about before she met John Hobbes. 

    To be honest the only people I cared for were Theta and Henry. Risque and flirtatious and party-goes they may be, but they also were the most genuine of all the characters. They shared a commonality of devotion to each other, a sibling bond between strangers that was established the day they met. And while I'm happy that Theta didn't die in the end, I was a little disappointed that Bray would conveniently let one of the main characters live and let Daisy and "nobody" die. 
    The ending in a way, slapped me silly and laughed in my face. 
    I didn't understand this chapter, Evie just had to repeat some words and hold out her most precious possession so it could destroy the enemy. When it said that John Hobbes for the first time showed a sign of fear, I laughed out loud. Really? Saying some jo-shmo words was what frightened him. I mean, this is from a girl who indeed was foolish and stupid to take on the Beast-- a maniac killer who did his deeds by the "word of the Lord." I didn't even believe that some guy was the Beast. Ultimately it's this, a very passionate church who transcribed words out of their butt in the claim it was from the "word of the Lord," made up some ritual to which the Beast could be resurrected. Then randomly one day they decide it's this John Hobbes, and decades later-- after the fact he'd killed innocents and was hanged for it-- returned to life and had this unspeakable power that was as mysterious and universally powered like the Almighty God's power, who ultimately would take over the world and destroy it. *takes a breath* Yeah... This wasn't believable from the start. Black magic I'd believe-- but claiming it Christian works and then showing it off with magic (I mean what would you call Naughty John magically shutting doors, appearing out of nowhere, making fires aflame and then distinguished in seconds, the list goes on and on) just really confused me. If it's going to be religious arts, keep it in that context, if it's magic, keep it with the black spirit arts. Intertwining Christian and pagan "magic" to so speak isn't believable or logical even in this fantasy setting. Maybe if it was some mythical religion like in A Game of Thrones, I'd buy it more. 
    And I want to talk about Jericho. In another book, I believe I would have loved him as a character. He's the strong silent type, what can I say, they're my favorite. But in the end when it's revealed he's some sort of robot man (reminded me a little of Will Smith in I, Robot), it just ruined it for me. I'm supposed to believe that sort of technology existed in the 1920s.) Ha! And then the "love triangle" was more of a distraction because it didn't develop past flirtations. No one out right confronted it or defended it (probably looking out more for their image), and it was only what the reader read when in those awkward chapters the POV would switch from Evie to Jericho or to Sam. If it was going to be so poorly defended or developed-- then take it out. If the author is wishing to "develop" it in the next book, it's a pity that no platform was set up in this book. Unless you want to call Evie's unpredicted change of heart to Jericho near the end and her meaningless make out session at the very end a platform. Set up, fine, I'll give you that, but wobbly and unstable. Not a good platform at all.
    Overall-- so many stories from so many characters and to be frank, 80% of them seemed irrelevant. The book is titled The Diviners and yet what did the "The Diviners" do in the end? Nothing. One girl-- coincidentally she was a Diviner and was victorious over evil, but the other Diviners did jack squat. They didn't develop as characters and most of their scenes and back story seemed unnecessary. Yes, in a word, disappointed. I was so very disappointed in this book.

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

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