Review of THE DIVINERS by LIBBA BRAY (first in THE DIVINERS quartet, review based on an advance reading copy)
This one hid on my maybe-read list for a long time. I loved Bray's GEMMA DOYLE trilogy, but the premise of THE DIVINERS didn't appeal to me. I worried the book simply wouldn't be to my taste. I've never been "into" the flapper era, serial killer plots, or this type of magic (a good adjective alludes me, but “diviners” gives an idea). However, I've always believed that when a book's really well-written it doesn't matter if it's what you usually read or like. The catch, of course, is deciding what's worth your time with so many great books out there - how often do you go with ones you know you'll love versus take a chance on something you might not like? While that's a question for another day, I took a chance on THE DIVINERS and the book rewarded me with a captivating story.
Mind you, the story didn't hook me immediately. As I expected, the plot's draped in trappings that don't overlap with my usual interests. I enjoyed the book from page one, but it wasn't until the core of the story emerged and the characters won me over that my skepticism flipped into adoration - I'm talking a good chunk of pages and chapters.
The pace feels both slow and not at the same time. Most of the book builds towards the inevitable climax, but every moment's still enjoyable. Both the short chapters and dynamic, varied characters also counteract any sluggish feeling to the plot. Though thick, the fantastic writing makes THE DIVINERS an easy, natural read.
Bray clearly did some intensive research for this one! There's a lot of slang, among many other details, frequently reminding us we're in a different time period. In general, the writing's very atmospheric. Overall I cherished that fact, but sometimes the description grew a bit long-winded. A perfect example would be near the end of the very first chapter when two pages describe the wind.
THE DIVINERS has that recent YA staple, the love triangle. In fact, it might be more a love square. Regardless, the romance doesn't hijack the story and each individual relationship develops satisfyingly slow so I understood and felt the emotional shift.
I confess the moment of victory near the end struck me as too easy not to mention somewhat forced. That aside, what an adrenaline-pumping showdown! With so many lead characters, I feared some of them might be expendable in the writer's mind, making the danger all the more pronounced. There's not one character here whose death I wouldn't mourn.
Add THE DIVINERS to my growing list of "first-book-in-a-series-disguised-as-a-standalone." I know now, thanks to Locus magazine, that THE DIVINERS is the first in a quartet, but I didn't realize that until after finishing this book. Bray found a more satisfying conclusion than I expected, but it's still very obviously a series with much left unresolved. However, it's not at all obvious where the next book will go from this point, so I look forward to some surprises there.