At a Harry Potter conference one mid-summer’s day, I wandered into a packed room of Libba Bray fans. They were waiting to hear the author read from her newest novel, “The Diviners.” I was waiting for a friend. I’d never met Libba Bray before, but had read the “Gemma Doyle” trilogy and “Going Bovine” (my favorite shade of Bray), and with some time to kill and “The Diviners” elevator pitch (“The Great Gatsby” meets Stephen King) echoing in my mind, I figured, why not kill it there? I sat down in front as Libba took to the podium with her laptop and began to read from the first chapter, expecting to be entertained.
Well, that chapter begins with a party. And at that party?
A Ouija board.
For reasons that may or may not be obvious to readers of my own books, I was not entertained. I was bewitched.
And so immediately after the conference, I managed to wormtongue a coveted advanced reader copy of the novel for myself and began to read it, deadlines be damned. I finished it two days later.
Let’s just get this out of the way: “The Diviners” is objectively long. But this is the thing: it doesn’t feel long. Meticulously researched and richly detailed, each narrative crackles with energy; there’s Evie, with dreams too big for her small-town life, Jericho, soft-spoken and secretive, Sam, devilish and handsome, Memphis (my love!), the Harlem numbers-runner and poet, and Theta, the Follies girl running from a tortured past (I will go down with that ship). Brimming with a flawed and fully-realized ensemble cast and a host of supporting characters who are entrancing and terrifying in turn (be on the lookout for my personal obsession, Blind Bill Johnson).
“The Diviners” is as layered as it is suspenseful, and as satisfying as it is ambitious. Against the backdrop of a glittering and gritty Jazz Age New York, Bray subtly weaves political themes that are as relevant today in post-9/11 America as they were a century ago. And as a subverter myself, I was delighted to be schooled by a master of subversion as she took on my favorite genre—horror. I have an extremely high tolerance for freakiness—there isn’t much that can make me squirm. But between the gruesomely rendered occult murders, Blind Bill Johnson, Miss Addie and Miss Lillian, and Naughty John? Even I was unsettled.
True to form, Bray defies all attempts at genre labeling; “The Diviners” is the best of historical fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance at once, and as such, is utterly unlike anything I have ever read. Rarely do I come across a series that warrants the adjective “epic,” but “The Diviners” deserves it. I can’t get enough of Evie’s world, and thankfully, I don’t have to, as the next installment is due out in 2014.