- In this third installment of Bray’s fantastic Diviners series, Libba Bray finally pulls together many moving pieces and lays down the major themes of the series with gusto. If I could sum it up in one phrase, I’d call this book “Ghosts are scary, but not as scary as evangelism” Or “Ghosts are scary, but it’s your fault.”
The Diviners are a diverse group of supernaturally talented young people in 1920s NYC (who aren’t officially called “The Diviners” but simply “diviners” at this point). In previous volumes, they have tracked down a paranormal serial killer and solved the crisis of the “sleeping sickness” that had people falling into deep nightmares and never waking. Along the way, they sought answers to how they came about their varied powers: Evie, rising radio starlet and object medium; Memphis, the “Harlem Healer”; Sam Lloyd, con man who can command invisibility; Theta, Follies Girl who fears revealing her fire-power may end her career and reveal her stormy past; and several more excellent young people. So many more. Libba Bray’s books are expansive in character and scope.
Their origin questions keep tracing back to: a mysterious enterprise called Project Buffalo; technical tycoon Jake Marlow; the United States military; and increased warnings from beyond the veil of the “Man in the Stovepipe Hat” sometimes also referred to as “The King of Crows.” The diviners eventually learn how they came to be and what the King of Crows wants from the land of the living.
The central plot is mainly in three parts: One focuses on a local madhouse based on New York’s Kirkbride asylums, where the patients have witnessed ghosts rising up onto the island out of the fog. These ghosts are not simply haunting: they are violently inhabiting the staff and using the living’s innermost angers to take out bloody and fatal revenge on the residents. This madhouse is linked to the diviners: one of its residents can draw the future like Isaiah, and another is the veteran who tried to assassinate Evie in a prior volume. Meanwhile, the diviners have come together to explore and improve on their powers under the guidance of Evie’s uncle Will and Sister Walker, both former associates in Project Buffalo who have not been entirely truthful with their young wards. The third part focuses on Jericho and his role in Jake Marlow’s upcoming Future of America exhibition (a sort of World’s Fair), with Jericho acting as a double agent to get more information on Marlow’s connection to Project Buffalo. Just kidding, there’s a fourth plot about a labor strike and the radical anarchists trying to move progress forward with dicier methods. The stories all come together in an explosive climax, and the diviners realize they are fighting a terror far broader than they could have imagined, one that is rooted as far back as the bloody origins of our nation.
Wow, it was REALLY HARD TO SUMMARIZE THAT because as always, Bray packs SO MUCH INTO HER BOOKS. It is no surprise each volume has topped 500 (sometimes 600) pages. That being said, the first volume and this volume move along at quite a clipping pace due to her snapping dialogue and vivid descriptions. The second book in the series was a bit of a slog for me — it definitely could have used a lot of editing, and it has a real “middle book” feel, setting up a lot that won’t come together for awhile.
But what didn’t work for me in volume 2 worked very well in this volume, as the underlying motivations of the novel’s villain is very epic in scope, and HIGHLY relevant, so the many stories and details feel much more purposeful. Honestly, it makes me wonder if Bray herself is a diviner of the future, because this book, which came out in 2017 (so she had to have started developing it in 2015/16?) is a BRUTAL examination of colonialism, white supremacy, and Trump’s America.
It’s mind-boggling how Bray manages to pack in every single friggin’ societal issue you can think of and it still feels authentic to the time period and the story she is telling. Mental health, feminist issues, religion in politics, demisexuality, reparations, rape culture. If I had a bell that I rang every time a character dealt with a thing I’d read about on Facebook that day, I’d be a really annoying neighbor.
Also, there’s hella sex in this one! Wooo! all of it together in the middle of the book. Everyone gets some. It was like Rent’s “Contact” in a YA historical fiction novel. Go, sexy times!
Bray could still use some more editing – the denouement was particularly looong.
But I’m REALLY excited to see how this all comes together. It feels little dismal, like going into Avengers Endgame. How can they come out of this disaster?? A multi-universe disaster tied to the shitty foundation of American history? IS LIBBA BRAY ABOUT TO SOLVE AMERICA’S PROBLEMS IN A YA PARANORMAL ROMANCE??!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?
Honestly, if anyone can do it, it might be her.
Also, if you’re curious and read the series, here is my impossible Dream Cast for a televised series that could only happen with the help of time travel since most of these people are grown-ass adults from different generations. WHATEVER MAN, IT’S MY HEADCANON. And aren’t they handsome?
Lastly, I do the audio for this series, because January LaVoy is A-MAY-ZING.