“The time is now. They are coming,” Isaiah said, drifting back into dreams, his last word barely a whisper: “Diviners.”
This was exactly my kind of book – with talk about the occult, magical-realism, and even a little horror (that I could handle for once) – I couldn’t help but fall for The Diviners. To quote Maggie Stiefvater, good magic is a little horrific, and good horror is always a little magical. And Libba Bray brought just that to the table with this chilling and wondrous book.
This follows the tale of seventeen-year-old Evangeline (Evie) O’Neill, who gets send to New York for a few months to stay with her uncle Will after an unfortunate incident involving a louse and a lothario named Harold Brodie. An incident she, rightfully, is not willing to apoligze for because that would mean explaining what happened.
You see, Evie has special powers— she can tell your secrets simply by holding an object dear to you and concentrating on it. But the aftereffects of her object reading can leave her feeling woozy and sick.
“In New York, she could reinvent herself. She could be somebody.”
This review contains *spoilers*.
When Evie arrives in New York after having lived in boring old Zenith, Ohio— it’s certainly a step-up for her. It’s thrilling, unnerving, and enlightening.
Speaking of unnerving, Sam Lloyd was introduced when Evie stepped of the train, and I was completely swept off my feet. I mean, I had stars in my eyes and everything…
To be frank, I went into this knowing I’d be completely smitten with Sam Lloyd because I saw some beautiful fanart (by one of my favorite artists)— and I was certainly not disappointed with his first appearance in the book.
“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 up her knee 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?”
And I still can’t believe he pick-pocketed her. I mean, I knew he was trouble when he opened his mouth, but I hadn’t guessed what sort of trouble.
“Thick, dark hair with a longer piece in front that refused to stay swept back. Amber eyes and dark brows. His smile could only be described as wolfish.”
(She just captured his smile perfectly. Sam Lloyd was painted by the brushstrokes of angels.)
And by then Evie finally arrives at the good old Bennington with her friend Mabel Rose, where they both encounter Theta Knight—a glamorous Ziegfeld girl.
“Evie decided she liked Theta. It was hard not to be taken by her glamour. She’d never known anyone in Ohio who lived on her own terms, wore silk men’s pajamas into a public lobby, and could toss a dozen roses like they were a cup of Automat coffee.”
It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that living with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult means having to risk her supernatural secret being discovered.
I actually found Will’s obsession with the mystical so damn interesting. His lectures never felt boring or tedious because they informed me of so much.
“Will smiled as the boys chuckled. “And yet, there are mysteries. How does one explain the stories of people who exhibit unusual powers?”
Evie felt a tingle down her spine.
“Powers?” a boy repeated in a skeptical tone bordering on contempt.
“People who claim to be able to speak to the dead, such as psychics or spiritual mediums. People who say they have been healed by the laying on of hands. Who can see glimpses of the future or know a card before it is played. The early records of the Americas talk of Indian spirit walkers. The Puritans knew of cunning folk. And during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin wrote of prophetic dreams that influenced the course of the war and shaped the nation. What do you say to that?”
But when the police find a murdered girl (Ruta Badowski) branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
“Ruta was only nineteen years old, and what she knew most was want—a constant longing for the good life she saw all around her.”
Getting into Ruta’s head while this unspeakably horrendous act happened at the hands of John ‘Naughty John’ Hobbes, broke a piece of my heart.
“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.”
Mr. Hobbes and his cold blue eyes gave me nightmares. And like Evie and her uncle said:
“He’s a monster,” Evie said. “Isn’t he?”
Will reached into a bowl of bridge mix. He juggled the candies in his hand without eating them. “Indeed. But that’s a what, not a why. Nothing is done without purpose, however twisted that purpose may be.”
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps.
And we circle between the lives of a few quaint people:
A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds.
“I just need a change of luck is all.”
“Don’t we all,” Memphis said and moved on.”
A chorus girl named Theta who’s running from her past.
“Theta.” Evie waved a finger in Theta’s general direction. “You didn’t let me tell your secrets.”
Theta wavered for a minute, but she was too drunk to say no. “Here ya go, Evil,” she said, passing over an onyx bracelet shaped like a jaguar. “My birthday is February twenty-third, and I had one of those limp sandwiches in the kitchen for dinner a million hours ago.”
Evie squeezed the bracelet and felt an overpowering sensation of sadness, and a trace of fear. She saw Theta running in the dead of night, her dress torn and her face a wreck. Theta was afraid, so very afraid.”
A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret.
“You asked me about how I came to live with your uncle Will. I didn’t answer you right away,” Jericho started. He pulled a heel of bread from his pocket and unwrapped it.
“No, you didn’t,” Evie said. Once, she’d been very curious about that. She couldn’t see that it mattered now, with her expulsion imminent. But she was grateful to Jericho for coming after her, for trying to comfort her in his way. She just wanted him to keep talking. “Will you tell me now?”
YES!! After he told Evie his secrets, so much of his past conversations made sense (particularly the one with Marlowe).
“I told myself a hundred lies. Children do that. It’s amazing the sorts of things you’ll make yourself believe.”
But I will admit that I was a little suspicious of Jericho because his childhood sounded a little similar to Naughty John’s story:
“Naughty John, born John Hobbes, raised in Brooklyn, New York, at the Mother Nova Orphanage, where he was left at the age of nine. A troubled youth, he ran away twice, finally succeeding when he was fifteen.”
(They were both at the age of nine when they were left at an Orphanage.)
But as always, I was getting way over my head. And that’s also the reason why I don’t read that much mystery— I suck at solving it.
And my favorite, Sam Lloyd, juggling his ordeals to make it in New York as a self-made man.
“Sam, too, would make his fortune, and then he’d find the place in the postcard. He’d find her.”
He was one of the most interesting characters to read about. The mystery behind his actions made me anticipate his every move.
“This job at the museum had been a stroke of good luck, easier than hustling magic tricks on the streets of Times Square. All he had to do was hold on for a little while—long enough to find out who needed to pay for what had happened to his family. And they would pay.”
And that job at the museum was pretty great for my entertainment— his banter with Evie made my cheeks hurt from smiling so damn much.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Let’s put that phrase to the test, shall we? I’ll get your hat.”
“No can do. Your uncle needs my help. Look at all this stuff—who knew there were so many superstitious charms? Like this—love charm of the Hopi. Oh, I better not let you hold this, sister. You might get goofy for me.”
“That’ll be the day.”
“I’m counting on that day.”
“I hope you can count pretty high, then,” Evie said.”
I knew I was getting pretty goofy for him.
Oh, and I also have to mention Evie’s dreams because they were one of the most fascinating parts of this book.
Especially this next one she had while in the collections room:
“Shadow people. She’d turn her head just in time to see them retreat into the growing gloom. Whispering, “She’s one. She’s one of them. You can’t stop us. Nothing can stop us.”
Evie turned a corner and was surprised to see Henry also walking the streets, as if looking for someone. His eyes widened when he saw her. “Evie, what are you doing here? Don’t remember me,” he said, and when she looked again, he was gone. ”
It gave me chills because I was kind of terrified. And then Sam wakes her from her nightmare and manages to make
me her laugh after seeing such horrors:
“This fella asked for your uncle, but I told him you were in charge, Your Highness.” Sam returned the bow.
Evie replied with an eye-roll. “Do you think you can manage to not steal anything while I’m gone?”
“The only thing I’m trying to steal is your heart, doll.” Sam smirked.
“You’re not that talented a thief, Sam Lloyd.”
Also, the love he had for his mother added like 10 extra points in my book:
“I thought you said she died.”
“That’s what they told us. Two years ago, I got this.” He pulled the worn postcard of trees and mountains from his pocket. Evie pretended it was the first time she’d seen it.
“Pretty. Where is this?”
“I don’t know. That phrase on the back, there. It’s Russian.”
Evie examined the soft handwriting, obviously feminine.
“It means ‘little fox.’ It was my mother’s nickname for me. She was the only one who ever called me that. That’s when I knew my mother was alive, and I was going to find her. So I took off. I joined up with the navy for a bit—till they found out I was only fifteen. Then I fell in with a circus.”
Like I said, Sam Lloyd has a piece of my heart.
Okay, so I was fully rooting for Sam and Evie to get together— but then Jericho realises somewhere along the road that he’s into Evie? And I’m just… WHAT??
“Jericho didn’t know if he would function like a normal man. He only knew that he had all the feelings of one. He wanted Evie. He wanted her desperately. With his hands on hers, he imagined what it would be like to kiss her, to make love to her. She was a little spoiled and often selfish, a good-time girl with a surprising kind streak. She ran toward life full tilt while Jericho held back, not daring. She made him feel alive, and he wanted more of it.”
I was unsettled, too, by the feelings she had developed for him.
“Are you feeling all right, Jericho?” Evie asked a bit shyly. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, I’m… jake, thanks,” he said, trying out the word with a smile.
Sam watched the two of them from the sidelines. Something had happened up in Brethren beyond their finding the pendant and escaping from the new faithful. And Sam didn’t like it.”
Right there with you, Sam.
I’m not saying that Evie should be with Sam, just that her sudden infatuation with Jericho wasn’t to my liking (especially when you put Mabel in the picture).
But if you put that aside, just about everything was written so magically and with such a chilling atmosphere. There were so many moments that I loved, especially the ones where all the characters were in the same place.
I mean, when I got to see Memphis and Theta interact (among many other happenings), it made my heart soar.
“Poet, we’ve gotta scram!”
Memphis ran with Theta around a corner, where he pulled her into a telephone booth. She looked up through heavy lashes into Memphis’s handsome face. She’d seen plenty of handsome fellas before, but none who wrote poetry and shared the same strange nightmare.
The fact that they shared the same nightmare was mind-boggling, I’m still in awe.
“Papa Charles isn’t gonna like this,” Memphis said. “He pays the cops enough not to raid his clubs. I hope your friends got out all right.”
“Me, too,” Theta said. She still held Evie’s handbag. “I suppose I’d better blow home and see if they did.”
Memphis felt his heart sink. He didn’t want the evening to end. “I could take you for a cup of coffee first, if you like. I know I could sure use one.”
Theta smiled. It was a sweet smile, almost shy. “Thanks, Poet. But I should get my beauty sleep.”
Memphis started to say something clever—“Why? You’re already the best-looking girl in town”—but didn’t. It would seem like charm, and he didn’t want to charm this girl. He wanted to know her. But the magic of their escape couldn’t extend everywhere.
“Maybe I’ll see you in my dreams tonight,” he said instead. “On that road.”
Theta’s smile faltered just a bit. “I suppose I’d feel less scared if you were there.”
Oh, and when they did get together, I got so many butterflies in my stomach (that kiss was everything and more):
“It was passionate, yet tender. A mutual agreement of desire. It was a kiss shared. He was kissing her. He was with her.
Memphis pulled away. “Everything jake?”
“No,” Theta said.
“What’s the matter?”
Theta looked up at him through thick, dark lashes. “You stopped.”
And not only was Memphis charming and sweet with Theta, he also held his little brother close to heart.
“Good old Memphis. Reliable Memphis. Charming, easygoing Memphis. Look-after-your-brother Memphis. Memphis had been the star once. The miracle man. And it had ended in sorrow. He wouldn’t ever risk that again. These days, he kept his feelings confined to the pages of his notebook.”
The way he watched out and worried about Isaiah pos-i-tute-ly melted my heart.
“Isaiah was all that was left of those happier times when their family was all together, when you only had to walk through the door to hear somebody laughing or calling out, “Who’s that knocking at my door?” and Memphis held tightly to his brother. If anything happened to Isaiah, he wasn’t sure he could survive it.”
You could tell that he loved his brother fiercely.
Ahh it’s really hard trying to not write whole paragraphs on each character because I loved them all. They had moxie, peculiar powers, and charm. Simply put, they were an enigma that I was dying to solve.
And not only were the characters some of the most memorable, but the mystery in the air had me on the edge for nearly the whole book. I also felt so excited whenever little plot points connected throughout the story.
And can we take a minute to appreciate Miss Lillian and Addie? Because they were such fascinating additions to the ongoing conundrum.
“Miss Addie reached out a finger and slid it over the surface of the half-dollar, paling as she did. “Such a terrible choice to have to make.”
“What do you mean?” Evie asked.
“Addie sees into the eternal soul,” Miss Lillian said.”
But there are still so many unanswered questions that I’m hoping will be revealed in the next book. Some of my most pressing ones being:
- The man in the stovepipe.
- Louis and Henry.
- Project Buffalo.
- The girl with the green eyes.
I feel fully invested in all the characters, and I cannot wait to start Lair of Dreams. Though, I am kind of hesitant because of Jericho and Evie— I’m really not feeling their relationship.
Oh, and I loved listening to this song while reading: