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lip lit: The Diviners

The Diviners is the first book in the new series (of the same title) from New York Times bestselling author, Libba Bray. The novel introduces small-town girl Evie, who has been sent to New York to live with her Uncle Will – curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult.

In the city that never sleeps, the Jazz age is in full swing, but it’s not all sly drinks and slinky dresses. A series of gruesome, occult-based murders come to light, and Uncle Will is asked to help hunt the killer. Never one to be denied, Evie insists on joining in, not realising the horrors that await her. In the midst of this, Evie is guarding a dark secret. It could help her catch the killer… but will it help him find her first?

Through the plot’s twists and turns, Evie and Uncle Will are assisted by an assortment of colourful individuals, each, like Evie, endowed with a unique, supernatural gift of Divination. Sam Lloyd is a small-time con man and big-time heartbreaker, vying for Evie’s affections, to the dismay of the brooding Jericho, who also has his eyes on the gal. But Evie is trying to set Jericho up with Mabel, Evie’s best chum. Mabel, Evie, and Will all live in the Bennington, a building of fading glamour. There, Evie meets the enchanting but careworn Theta, and her “brother” Henry. The pair works for Flo Zeigfeld, Theta as a dancer, Henry as a piano player. Last but not least in the array of characters is Memphis, a poet/numbers runner from Harlem. In this fascinating world of prohibition, gangs, police corruption, and silent-movie glamour, everyone is looking for something. For Evie and her friends, this search means struggling with inner demons as they battle the Beast himself.

This novel is the latest offering from Libba Bray, renowned Young Adult author. Her flare for the dramatic is suited to this genre, although refined readers may find it grating. The dialogue is completely melodramatic, but the teenage audience may be more forgiving. Bray presents an interesting group of characters, and for the most part is successful in making them compelling. She hints at secret pasts and hidden powers, without giving the reader too much. Interestingly, Evie is not a particularly likable character, driven by a naive selfishness that makes her an unlikely heroine. At the novel’s close, the lessons she has (predictably) learnt about compassion and rationality are thrown out the window, in a shameless segue into the next book.

The Diviners is fairly obviously a first book in a series. Not too much is ever given away, and the characters are all given more intrigue in the last few chapters. The story itself is gory in a way that is gripping, and the reader races to the end, anxious to know just how the book will wrap up. It leaves you wanting more, and one hopes the next book will offer it. The close of the novel neatly concludes one story arc, while leaving many more to be explored at a later date. The world is colourful, but lacks depth. Hopefully this problem and the sketchiness of the dialogue and character development will be smoothed over as the series progresses.

More macabre than Harry Potter, and better written than Twilight, Diviners offers to be a series that will absorb Young Adult readers for years to come.

The Diviners is published by Allen & Unwin.

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