Naughty John, Naughty John
Does his work with his apron on,
Cuts your throat and takes your bones
Sells them off for a coupla' stones.
The Diviners, set in New York in the 1920’s, follows the story of Evie, a young girl sent to live with her Uncle after causing a scandal at a party in her hometown which could threaten her Father’s business. He Uncle runs a museum dedicated to the supernatural a subject of interest to Evie, who has the ability to see into the past by holding an object belonging to someone.
Not long after getting to New York, her Uncle is contacted by the police to help out with a series of murders with occult leanings which Evie helps out with.
I really enjoyed this novel, the glamorous 20’s setting worked really well and it was interesting to see an era of history so fuelled by technological advancement cross over into the realms of the supernatural.
The setting was well researched and realised, characters speak using slang terms from the era and make references to tastes and fashions of the time without it ever feeling forced. As a lover of the cinema of the 20’s I also appreciated the odd mention of stars like Clara Bow and films like F.W. Murnau’s Faust which helped make the setting feel real.
The main draw of the story is the villain, Naughty John. The chapters detailing his murders are atmospheric and frightening, they wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie and really make your skin crawl as you read them. I was initially unsure if the supernatural element of the character was even really needed as he would still have been such a great character without it, as I read on however it really paid off as his backstory is fascinating.
Naughty John is also a great villain because he’s not really in the book too much. Libba Bray really understands that less is more. His chapters are short and fairly infrequent but the character dominates the text to the point where he’s all you can think about when you put it down.
Aside from Evie and Naughty John, we’re given several characters with subplots that intertwine with the main plot. The other characters are all good too, though not all are as fleshed out as they could be (though I suppose this is to come later on in the series). All of these characters are interesting and as we learn a little more about their powers the dark nature of the world of the book is really thickened.
The Diviners is set to be the first book in a series, but still reads well as a standalone novel. It manages to break with the frustrating trend in YA series, that the first book is little more than a world builder, an introduction to the characters and a taste of what to expect when the actual story starts. This book manages to feel like a fully realised story, one that I’m not actually convinced needs following up on at all.
That said, a satisfying set of cliffhangers towards the end of the novel have left me interested in what’s to come, not all of the plot threads are too interesting and one of the reveals is downright stupid but the plotlines that are good promise great things to come for those willing to stick with the series.
The Diviners is a great period horror, well realised, well written and suitably creepy. It’s definitely worth picking up.