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.
The first thing you need to know is that it took me two tries to get into this book and finish it, with two years in between attempts; the reason being that you really have to be in the mood to commit to this long-winded book. I also think you need to prep yourself for Evie—she’s a handful both as a character and for the reader, with her flapper-speak and over-the-top-ness. I think you also need to approach this book knowing that she’s an immature character, and that it was definitely an intentional choice for Libba Bray to write her that way. Once you’ve readied yourself for all those factors, you’re good to go.
I originally gave this book a 4 out of 5 because I enjoyed reading this book. If you’re willing to let go and just enjoy the ride, you’ll likely feel the same as me. However, in retrospect, I have some thoughts.
The first issue I have with this book is the glaring historical plot hole. What do you think the chances are of seven young characters, who are mostly thrown together by happenstance, all being excessively liberal-thinking for the time period and readily accepting the non-white or non-straight characters? Based on all of my university history classes of New York during the 1920s, the answer is that the chance is incredibly, incredibly slim. Sure, this is fiction. But I still need to be able to believe it. And when I’m sitting there, the entire time, remembering that this is fiction, yes, but historical fiction… It’s like if someone wrote a book that took place during the Salem Witch Trials, in Salem, with witches, but there was no mention of the trials or the dangers they faced—I’d be like, nah bro. That’s not happening—it’s a glaring oversight. And while I wish that, historically, everyone had been accepting and liberal-minded, that just wasn’t the case, and I think it’s actually a disservice to not make a point of the fact that it wasn’t, and the injustice of it all. The closest we get is the mild concern that Theta and Memphis have over how their relationship will be judged, but there lacks the weight behind it that should have been there. I think we all need to remember that characters like Memphis could have been lynched for openly having a relationship with a white girl. THAT’S the time period this book is taking place in, and yet those factors are completely ignored.
The second issue I have is that this book could easily have been half the size. So much page space is wasted to unimportant prose that has little to nothing to do with the main, or even secondary, plot elements that it’s baffling. Where was the editor during the creation of this book? This colossal, 500+ page book could have been 300-400 pages without sacrificing a single bit of the adventure or suspense. What would the book be without, then? Here’s a sampling: Evie’s goodbye to her old friends before leaving to New York (she never mentions them again nor stays in touch with them after her move); summaries of her initial outing with Mabel; Mabel chickening out of getting her hair bobbed; Evie listening in on Uncle Will’s lecture (a short summary would have sufficed); the outings with Theta and Mabel; Mabel deciding to get her hair bobbed; the whole scene (chapter?) where they are at an illegal club and it gets raided. Just a few examples.
My third issue, and I’m trying to avoid any spoilers here so it may be confusing to you if you haven’t read it, is that the “secret” about Jericho’s character is so incredibly out of place to the rest of the story. In a book about magic and fantasy, we randomly—and towards the end, and in a way that feels inauthentic—have sci-fi plunked into the plot-line like it’s no big deal. But like I said, it feels random and inauthentic. My actual reaction was: “What the heck? Why?” So there’s that.
Finally, and most important, is that I have no need or desire to read the next book. It’s not that I actively don’t want to, but The Diviners left off in such a way and place that I feel just sort of “meh” about continuing the series.
After giving myself time to think about this book, I’m changing my rating to 3. It’s just not good enough to get a 4 from me. I’m glad I thought about it, though, before posting a review because I think the points I made are important things to consider before you pick it up. It’s a huge time investment, and I’d rather you spend your time on a book you’ll really love. Let me know your thoughts!