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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 by Libba Bray. Like her first hit series, the Gemma Doyle trilogy, The Diviners is a gothic historical novel and due for expansion 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 Diviners demonstrates the following tropes:

  • 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."
  • Bad Dreams: Besides their powers, incomprehensible prophetic dreams are the thing that tie all Diviners together.
    • Lair of Dreams focuses on this, with people actually trapped in a nightmare.
  • Big Bad: Book 1, John Hobbes
    • Book 2, Wae-Mae
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The men who move like shadows, whose presence subtly laces through the course of the book.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: Blind Bill Johnson.
    • Also, the source of the serum that turns Jericho into the "New Jericho."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Matzo Fever: A running theme among the couples in the series. Most prominently featured in Sam and Evie, but there's also Mabel's parents, Will and Rotke, Henry and David, and (probably) Arthur and Mabel.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Averted with Evie and Theta. While they're not especially sexually promiscuous, Theta is definitely not a virgin, and Evie in particular really enjoys flirting and making out with boys.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Theta and Henry tell their landlord they're brother and sister to get away with living together as an unmarried man and woman.
  • 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 of cons so that Henry can make it into the music industry together.
  • 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.
  • Soul Jar: Naughty John made his house into one. Also, the ritual to destroy Naughty John's spirit involves sealing his ghost into one of these.
  • '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.

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