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Literature / The Diviners (2012)

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"Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on.
Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells 'em off for a coupla stones."

The Diviners is a 2012 young adult novel series by Libba Bray. Like her first hit series, the Gemma Doyle trilogy, The Diviners is a gothic historical novel and has been expanded into a series. Not to be confused with the 1974 novel of the same name by Margaret Laurence.

Set in New York City during the 1920s, the novel chronicles the story of Evangeline "Evie" Fitzgerald O'Neill, a flapper with a heart of gold and a secret: she has the ability to read secrets and memories from personal objects, such as a hat or a glove. When Evie causes a scandal in her small hometown of Zenith, Ohio, her parents send her to live with her Uncle Will in New York. Uncle Will is the curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult and a foremost scholarly expert on all things supernatural. When a series of murders take place that bear several occult characteristics, Uncle Will is called on to assist in the investigation - and Evie, sniffing out adventure, inserts herself at his side. But her strange power may be the secret to solving the murders.


And through it all, something dark is rising.

The novels:

  • The Diviners
  • Lair of Dreams
  • Before the Devil Breaks You
  • The King of Crows

The Diviners demonstrates the following tropes:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: Abandoned as in late at night and empty, but still in use. The site of Naughty John's second kill.
  • Affably Evil: Jake Marlowe seems like a swell guy, as well as being a brilliant scientist and inventor, but over the books is revealed by degrees to be one of the main villains. Not only is he a ruthless industrialist who runs a "company town" style mine, not only is he an ardent eugenicist who wants to purge America from the "lesser races" and their influence, he also has some sort of Deal with the Devil with the King of Crows (see below). In a Kick the Dog moment in the third book, he also ignores Ling trying to get into his Future of America Exhibition after promising her free entry tickets before.

  • Bad Black Barf: The Proctor sisters tell Evie the gruesome backstory of the Bennington, which includes people suffering from the fever expelling "vomitus the color of black night."
  • Biblical Bad Guy: John Hobbes is (or at least, wants to become) the antichrist.
  • Creepy Basement: Knowles End. The whole house is creepy, but the basement is where the real horror happens.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: John Hobbes' victims.
    • In book 2, Wae-Mae, who ran way after murdering the men who tricked her and destroyed her dreams, her brain addled by opium and syphilis, hid in the defunct Beach Pneumatic Train station, and was accidentally buried alive there.
    • In books 2 and 3, several people are devoured by hungry ghosts.
  • Cyborg: Jericho has machinery inside him to help keep him alive, after suffering from infantile paralysis.
  • Darkest Hour: The ending of book 3 - unlike the previous two which ended on some note of victory against the Monster of the Week, the ending of the third book ramps things up dramatically towards The Day of Reckoning, with things looking very dire for our heroes. Evie has been disgraced in public by Sarah Snow and Jake Marlowe (who has also disgraced James in the process), and ends up quitting from her radio show. Sam has been captured by the Shadow Men; Memphis and Isaiah have to go on the run from them, as well. Jericho's location is still unknown, after he left the Marlowe estate, and it's uncertain how well he can make it without his serum. Theta had to quit the follies, and is still threatened by Roy. Mabel and uncle Will are dead (and knowing the Shadow Men, it's quite possible that so is Aunt Octavia). The public has turned against Diviners. The King of Crows is gaining power. The Time Is Now.
  • Deal with the Devil: Jake Marlowe apparently made one with the King of Crows; it's notes at one point that all his great successes started after the War, which was when he first made the breach between worlds that will enable the King of Crows to try to take over, and in the third book it's revealed he's receiving directions from him through The Eye.
  • Epigraph
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
    "The Second Coming," William Butler Yeats
    • Also, each book ends with an "Author's Note" with some details on the era.
  • Hidden Depths: Everyone, but Evie in particular is a notable example. She's the consummate flapper, and initially comes across as shallow, selfish, self-absorbed, frivolous, and (arguably) unlikable. But beneath the devil-may-care party girl attitude is a girl who is in turns extremely compassionate and deeply insecure, and who still grieves for the loss of her brother during the war.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Before The Devil Breaks You, in spades. Whilst previous books had had some passionate kissing and references to sex, over the course of BTDBY several of the central couples have sex: Memphis & Theta, Arthur & Mabel, David & Henry, and Sam & Evie.
  • Human Resources: The Eye is powered by the troop of Diviner soldiers - including Evie's brother James - that have been sucked into it in an experiment during WWI. Marlowe also somehow uses captured Diviners for that purpose.
  • Irishman and a Jew: A romantic variant with Evie and Sam
    • An interesting version with Mabel and Ling, considering the fact that Mabel is half Jewish and Ling is half Irish. Whilst Sam and Evie are all about the personality clash, Mabel and Ling highlight some of the more political aspects: Mabel's been raised by firebrand socialist parents, and Ling's been raised by more conservative parents (although they are still a loving interracial couple who support their daughter's scientific aspirations.) Part of the reason that Ling subscribes the the "Pulling Yourself Up By the Bootstraps" mentality, though, is that she feels the unions don't recognise or fight for the Chinese.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Mabel likes Jericho, who likes Evie. Sam likes Evie, who likes Jericho. Mabel may also be starting to like the mysterious Arthur Brown.
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: This gem:
    Jericho: So I shot the man in the back.
    Evie: Interesting.
    Jericho: And then I took his head, which I keep under my bed.
    Evie: Of course.
    Jericho: Evie. Evie!
    Jericho: You're not listening.
    Evie: Oh, I pos-i-tute-ly am, Jericho!
    Jericho: What did I just say?
    Evie: Well, whatever it was, I'm sure it was very, very smart.
  • Occult Detective: Evie, Will and Jericho investigating the Pentacle Killer Also known as Naughty John.
  • Parental Abandonment: Evie's parents ship her off to New York to live with her uncle. Theta was raised by a foster mother. Mabel's parents are present, but rarely have time for her. Memphis's mother passed away when he was young and his father left them to move to Chicago for work. Jericho's parents signed him over to the state when he was hospitalized.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Henry and Theta. They live together, work together, and even try to pull off cons so that Henry can make it into the music industry together.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Theta, although some of that is just make-up, as she's described at least once as being tanned. Leading up to The Reveal in Before The Devil Breaks You that Theta is part Cherokee.
  • Roaring Twenties: This book is set in 1927,and Libba Bray made an amazingly good job in recreating the magic of the Jazz age with huge amounts of research. Everything from the famous stars, the racial tensions to the conventions of the '20s are contained or referenced in it.
  • Shown Their Work: See Roaring Twenties above - Libba Bray has clearly done a lot of research on 1920s-era US (and especially New York), and those details are generously peppered throughout the books, to the degree that a character doesn't just drink a root beer, it's a Hires root beer.
  • '20s Bob Haircut: All the girls sport a bob, appropriate since it is set in 1920's. Mabel gets one at the end of The Diviners.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: A few words here and there in the first two books, but Yiddish has quite a place in Before The Devil Breaks You. Sam regularly peppers his conversation with Yiddish phrases, Mabel's dad has a few Yiddish terms of endearment for her, and even (nominal) Catholics Evie and Ling have picked up a few words. Fully Justified, given that fact that Yiddish culture was thriving in 1920's New York.