The Diviners is the story of Evie, who can read objects, but prefers to be a flapper, escaping to her uncle's place in New York, New York. It's 1926, and Evie is thoroughly modern. It's the story of Memphis, a numbers runner in Harlem who dreams of being a poet. It's the story of Theta, whose name isn't Theta, who lives with her brother who isn't her brother, who is--now, at least--one of the Ziegfeld Girls. It's the story of Naughty John, who does his work with his apron on . . .
The Diviners is built around Evie, but it is many stories. Libba Bray does everything I tend not to like in fiction--there are many points of view, though Evie's is primary, she spends some time describing and anthropomorphizing landscapes and elements, she flips around in whoever's point of view is most useful, and she digresses into character back stories that don't all become relevant in this book. I also don't like big books and this one is long, clocking in at nearly six hundred pages of decently-sized hardback. With all of that in mind, I loved this book. Everything, every word, has its purpose, and in a book this long, that's saying something. Every point of view shift is worth it, every digression interesting, every nuance telling.
Even better is the historical setting. The Diviners isn't just set in the 20s, it lives and breathes the 20s--down to the slang, the tech, the culture, the language, the scars of one world war and the setting-up of the next. A lot of historical fiction--especially speculative historical fiction--tends to be merely flavored with its era. The Diviners is brilliantly 20s, and could not have been set in another era and told such a story.
For all that The Diviners is being marketed as YA, it's a chilling, incredible urban fantasy that I would urge anyone who enjoys the genre to check out. For all that the construction of the book hits all the things I tend not to like (and yet I loved it, note), the premise is everything I love: YA with a spunky girl protagonist! Historical spec fic! Urban fantasy! Serial killer mystery! Diverse characters! Thoughtfulness about society! All wrapped up in speakeasies and paranormal abilities.
The Diviners is also that rare first book in a series that stands on its own, but is clearly sowing the seeds for a series. I hope that many of the digressions I spoke of above, which came to little more than character pieces in this book, will bear fruit in the next. I loved this book and I want more, so if anything I've mentioned here strikes your fancy, hop on the trolly, old girl, and cough up some dough! Or, y'know, hit the library, if dough is hard to come by.