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It’s been brought to my attention that I don’t write particularly positive reviews of books anymore. While that is true, it’s not because I’m deliberately trying to be curmudgeonly. I simply haven’t come across many things I’ve genuinely loved. But then I read Libba Bray’s The Diviners. It’s the sort of book I didn’t know was intended to be the first in a series, and wrapped up its main storyline so nicely that it could stand on its own, but introduced so many cool characters and elements that I wish it’d gone on forever (it is a series, apparently, so yay!). Spoilers to follow…

The Diviners is, to an extent, the story of young Evie O’Neill, a girl from the roaring twenties (fact: you are not allowed to use the phrase “the twenties” without putting “roaring” in there somewhere), who ends up moving to Manhattan to live with her Uncle Will when her personality becomes too much for her parents’ reputation in small town Zenith, Ohio. But Evie is hiding a secret. (Actually, most people in the novel are hiding secrets.) Evie has a divine gift, that she can read a person’s history from a personal object. It’s what got her into trouble in Ohio, but it’s not a bad ability to have when one’s uncle owns and runs a museum of oddities and the occult. More importantly, because of said museum, Uncle Will is on good terms with the police when it comes to investigation, and they call upon him to help solve a series of serial murders. Bodies are being displayed around Manhattan in a pattern the police can’t figure out, but the clues suggest it’s the work of the occult. Evie involves herself because she thinks it’d be fashionable and modern, and reads the objects of the victims, which leads her to a suspect (positive), who gives her nightmares (negative), and who may or may not be kinda super dead (neutral?).

In addition to that bit of fun, we also have:
– Evie’s best friend Mabel Rose, the daughter of socialist agitators, who is neither fashionable nor particularly outgoing, who is in love with Jericho, and begs Evie to set them up…
– Jericho, assistant at the Museum, the silent type, who has mysterious meetings with me who give him briefcases full of mysterious vials, and who is not entirely human…
– Theta Knight, the Ziegfeld girl/wannabe ingenue that lives in Evie’s building and is running from a dark past and a mysterious power she woke up with one morning and cannot control…
– …who shares the same confusing dream with Memphis, a numbers-runner who used to have healing powers, but they failed him when his mother died…
– …who also has a younger brother, Isaiah, who might be a seer but definitely gets possess by a dark voice heralding doom (hate when that happens).
– Oh, and the Pentacle Killer, as he’s known, might actually be the revived spirit of a cultist and killer who died decades ago.

Add to that a Ziegfeld show, a love quadrangle, a backwoods cult, an untrustworthy reporter, two crazy old ladies who keep propheting the return of “the Diviners” (that sounds familiar somehow), and someone who is stealing the powers of others. Fun for the whole family, if the family likes complex, paranormal, historical mystery, with interconnected plots and really interesting characters.

The book does jump around third-person POVs of many of the characters, but Evie is the true star, at least for now. She starts off as something of a shameless party girl, but while some of that is genuine desire to be a funloving modern girl, some of it is designed to hide herself from the weightier bits of her ability. Using her power gives her a terrible headache, for a start, but that isn’t much compared to the residual horror of the dark things she can see, or the emotional weight of having to keep all of these secrets: her ability, her knowledge of the killer and the case, the things she learns about her friends and compatriots along the way things that she knows they wouldn’t want her to know. But as time goes on and Evie develops her power more, she soon learns she can go too deep, travel too far within the memories, and she’s not altogether sure how to pull herself out.

I loved pretty much every element of The Diviners, and I could go on for awhile about the fun of solving supernatural mysteries whilst simultaneously trying to not end up as a sacrifice to a dark lord, but what really stood out for me in the book was Evie. Evie is a fascinating character: she has a conscience, but it’s deeply buried underneath her desire to be liked, and if not liked, then known, remembered. She wants to save Uncle Will’s Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (known colloquially as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies), which is going under. She knows that Manhattan’s fascination with the Pentacle Killer murders wil make people morbidly curious about the occult, and makes a back alley deal with an underhanded reporter investigating the murders, agreeing to be his anonymous source so long as he mentions the Museum’s involvement in the investigation. She’s hoping that the exposure will bring in numbers, and money, and keep the Museum open. This is a charitable act, but not entirely selfless; Evie knows that if the Museum closes, or if Uncle Will decides she’s in the way, or not helpful, or too helpful, she’ll be sent back to Ohio.

She’s afraid that someone finding out about her gift will be problematic, but at the same time, she routinely brings it out at parties while intoxicated, because she thrives on the attention. She desperately wants the uber-fashionable Theta Knight to like her; she wants Mabel to rely on and look up to her; she wants to be mentioned in New York City newspapers so she can show them to her Ohio friends who dismissed her as a lush and a liar. But then, after revealing to Will and Jericho and the obnoxious con artist Sam (another corner of the love quadrangle) what she can do, and not being shunned for it, she wants to use her power to help a cause, and wants to learn how to develop it more. Under their supervision, she divines an object of Naughty John Hobbes, the convicted and dead murderer from the 1800s, and the believed returned-ghost and current Pentacle Killer (determined to complete the complex occult ritual he’d started on with his many, many killings). Problem is, she goes too deep into Naughty John’s memories and becomes too involved.

That is the thing about Evie: she means well (-ish) and she goes too far. And I love that her reaction to this ‘gift’ is not the typical one. She doesn’t want to run away or hide herself, she doesn’t particularly want to save the world, she doesn’t carry any particular burden of power or resigns herself to impending doom, she wants to show off. For someone with superhuman powers, she’s ridiculously human, and it’s lovely.