Horror and magic are sometimes seen as strange bedfellows. While magic in fiction often evokes thoughts of Hobbits, wizards and magical kingdoms, horror is another genre that often features mystical characters and stories. The Diviners by Libba Bray combines these elements along with 1920s glamour, small town alienation and an exciting murder mystery aimed at an older teen audience (16+).
The Diviners follows the initially separate stories of Evie O’Neill and Memphis as they navigate very different perspectives of 1920s New York. Evie moves to New York to escape a small town scandalized by her unusual abilities and fearless attitude. Memphis struggles against poverty and racism while being haunted by prophetic dreams of a coming danger. But both of them will come together to combat a supernatural danger that most people don’t even believe exists.
Evie and Memphis both deal with different sides of the outsider coin. Evie is quite attractive and confident at first glance, with her flapper style and quick wit making her a standout among her peers. But her unusual psychic gifts and confrontational attitude often makes an outsider of her in her small town. Misunderstood by her peers and unsupported by her parents, Evie moves to New York with her uncle to avoid her recent scandal. Here she enjoys a newfound sense of freedom and support that she has always dreamed of, but also begins to discover that the city of New York is home to more than just speak easies and glamourous shopping.
Memphis, by contrast, is a native New Yorker who lost his mother to illness and his father who moved away. Working as a small time bookie to help make ends meet, Memphis deals with the open racism of 1920s America while also struggling with his internal problems of having lost his parents. As Memphis begins to experience haunting visions of an impending threat, Memphis has to come to terms with his abilities and responsibilities in a world that doesn’t appreciate him.
The thematic and appeal hooks of The Diviners are very clear and skillfully executed. 1920s glamour is beautifully illustrated, and serves to contrast the frightening and sometimes gory plot excellently. The adult plot and difficulty of the novel means that it will be appreciated by older teens, especially ones that have an appreciation for historical mysteries, low fantasy or the occult.
The other large appeal of the book is both of the main protagonists experiencing various forms of alienation and discrimination. Evie is largely viewed by her peers as troublesome and weird because of her bravery and unusual gifts while Memphis deals with sometimes open racism. Younger readers will often not have much experience with these problems, but older teens will be better able to identify and experience the difficulty of alienation and isolation.
Teens who enjoy The Diviners may also enjoy another series by Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty. Similar thematic hooks are used: female protagonist, historical fiction, and dark fantasy. There are many differences however, namely that it takes place in a female boarding schools in England and puts more of a focus on the female friendship dynamic. The Diviners is also part of a continuing series, so the sequel Lair of Dreams could also be used as a follow-up read.