Libba Bray is astonishing. With the exception of her Gemma Doyle trilogy, her other books have been standalones that span all genres. Going Bovine, the only book I know of that combines mad cow disease and Don Quixote, won the Printz Award several years ago. And now, she writes her latest novel The Diviners.
It's the era of Prohibition and flappers, Ziegfeld girls and speakeasys. After a faux pas at home in Ohio, bubbly, "everything's jake" Evie O'Neill has arrived in New York to stay with her uncle Will. Will curates the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. When a peculiar murder with apparent occult ties occurs, the police call upon Will to help solve the crime. And that's where the easy explanation ends.
Evie helps her uncle untangle the complicated threads of a story tying together religion, the occult, and a sacred covenant made years before. At the same time, we learn about other characters on the fringes of Evie's story: Memphis, a numbers runner; Jericho, Will's assistant at the museum; Theta, a Ziegfeld girl; and Sam, a petty thief. As Evie's story continues, it is clear that all these characters have ties with something bigger than themselves. The something is a looming thing of nightmares and evil
I can't even elaborate on this story anymore without serious spoilers, and I can't fully explain the "something." The ARC that I got at BookExpo is 578 pages, and this is the first in a four-part series that I can only assume covers the stories of the other characters in Evie's story. The film rights have already been snapped up by Paramount (wise move!) via Fake Empire and this promises to be an epic, Roaring-Twenties adventure with layers of darkness and occultism.
I stayed up way too late as I got deeper and deeper into this story. The world building and historical imagery are impeccable. After watching Ken Burns' documentary Prohibition earlier this year, I was totally onboard with the time period. At first I didn't like Evie's "pos-i-tute-ly" flapper slang, but as the story built into this maelstrom of intrigue and horror, it became so secondary that I just sat up turning page after page. The story reads like a movie, and I can't wait to see how it translates into film. It's one book-to-film that I'm not dreading!
I do wonder how this book will be received by teens. There's plenty of plot and lots of characters to keep the story going (and Evie is seventeen in the story), but I wonder how the (grisly!) murders and the time period will resonate. The connection I draw is that each time period has an expected "apocalypse" and this story is what apocalypse looked like in the Twenties. The fact that it is a time before a lot of modern technology makes it all the more scary. Beyond the family, there isn't a global community with whom to share common experiences. Local papers are the time period's Facebook status, if you will, and not knowing is a fear in and of itself.
The Diviners will be published in September by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers. Libba, thank you for being amazing and signing my ARC at BookExpo. Paramount and Fake Empire, thank you for seeing the amazing movie opportunity in this book.
Ex libris and everything's jake,