Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners

Author: Libba Bray

Series: The Diviners

Rating: 5 stars

Review:

It was only meant to be a harmless brag, a little showing off at a party after she had a few drinks too many. But when Evie O’Neill proves to everyone that she has a psychic power – the ability to see a person’s memories by holding an object of theirs – she lands in one hell of a mess. Accidentally accusing the son of a wealthy and powerful family of knocking up a maid means Evie better skip town for a while, until the heat dies down. She is thrilled when her parents suggests that she stay with her uncle Will in fabulous New York City, and just knows that this will be her chance to find her way to stardom. Even if it does mean working at Will’s freaky museum, dedicated to the Supernatural and the Occult.

But a string of ritualistic murders leaves the city in terror, the police ask Will to help and Evie is determined to tag along. With her and Jericho – Will’s quiet but strong assistant – to help, Evie knows that not only will they stop the killer, but that she is sure to end up on the front page. That’s if she can stay alive first…

I will confess that I haven’t read many fantasy or Young Adult books set in the 1920’s (in fact, none others come to mind), but after finishing The Diviners this is something I strive to change, in the hopes that they are as good as Libba Bray’s wonderful book. The Diviners is a somewhat deceptive book, in that it starts in a fairly mild manner: the focus is on Evie and her hopes and dreams as she moves to New York. We are shown the paranormal talent that Evie possesses in being able to read a person’s history from a beloved item as way of explanation as to what trouble she caused that ended up with her having to hide out in New York until things calmed down at home, but this is almost forgotten about in nearly the first half of the book. Never fear though, for instead we are treaded to the gilts and glamour of the Big Apple. The level of descriptions and detail in this book is amazing – clearly there has been a lot of research put into it – and I believe it all pays off big time. As the story progresses tension grows as a serial killer attacks taking pieces of his victims and leaving behind pieces of scriptures about ‘offerings’, the whole book becoming decidedly creepier and brilliantly scary. We also get glimpses of other people with talents similar to Evie’s, teasing hints of bigger things out there in the world of this story, which sadly won’t be further explored until the rest of the series.

The other great thing about The Diviners is the number of varied and complex character there are. No-one is 2D in this story, and some you might at first dismiss as ‘shallow’ or ‘ignorant’ but when you learn about their past, you see them in a whole new life, and can’t help but love them. One of the most moving back stories for me was that of Thata, who may seem a stereotypical flapper at first but who has a past so dark it’s like a punch to the gut to read (but then again, some of the best writing is like that). I also loved the budding romance between her and Memphis, which was just plain sweet. It is also a great example of a romance that has instant attraction and chemistry but is definitely not the dreaded intsa-love. Instead, it’s a slow but powerful burn that just makes you happy for both characters. Evie herself is testament to Libba Bray’s excellent writing. She starts off as a bit of a brat: she got into a lot of trouble by getting very drunk and showing of her special talent, but clearly hasn’t learnt her lesson as she continues to drink, and is always dying to be the centre of attention. But as we read, Evie grows, slowly but surely. We see her naivety as she is pick-pocketed virtually the moment she steps of the train into New York. We she her brave spirit as she confronts the thief a few days later. We see her kindness and love for her friends and her uncle as she adjusts to life in the city, helping to get her uncle’s museum more business (albeit in her own misguided way), tries to break her best friend Mabel out of her shell and out of her mother’s shadow, and adopts Thata into their friendship straight away. Evie reviles herself to be a much more complex character, and although we don’t get a full backstory from her, the pieces we see are just as heart-wrentching as all the others, and her need to be in the spotlight (her need to be loved) becomes clear. She is definitely a character that grows on you, without changing who she is.

My only (very minor) criticism of this book is that the narration has a tendency to jump from character to character within the same scene, sometimes even within the same paragraph. This can make it hard to keep track of who’s POV we are following. In particular it made Thata and Memphis’ first meeting a little confusing as the text refers to Thata by name but it’s only at the end of the scene Memphis actually learns her name.

Bottom line, I loved this book. And so begins the long arduous wait for the sequel.

5 stars.

Book Review: Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Title: Vicious

Author: V. E. Schwab

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Mild spoilers)

Victor Vale and Eli Ever. They were friends once, years ago. Two collage boy who found a similar keen intellect and a thirst for knowledge in each other. They had heard the rumours of people who were ExtraOrdinary, somehow more than human. Whilst researching how one can become an EO, Eli thinks he has found the key to gaining super human abilities. But then in one night, everything fell apart –  and two friends became bitter rivals.

Everyone is the hero of their own story. What they don’t tell you is there is a thin line between being a hero and a villain. But Eli knows, he knows he is the good guy. His mission is nobel, and he is the only one who can be trusted to do it. That was, until he discovers that Victor, his now nemesis, has somehow escaped from prison. This can only end in pain…

I’m a big fan of Victoria Schwab’s YA novels, which include The Near Witch, and The Archived series, and I also enjoy following her on social media so this, her first adult novel, has been high on my reading list for a long time. I also have a soft spot for X-Men style superheroes, so needless to say my expectations and hope for Vicious were very high. I am pleased to report that this book is one damn good read. I loved the process of having a near-death experience to become an EO, and found it clever how each person’s powers are linked to that experience and how they handled it/what they did to survive. This made each power unique and lead to an interesting dynamic between Eli and Victor’s powers: Eli can heal him self from any wound and Victor can cause pain. At first glance it would seem that super healing powers would mean that you couldn’t lose (or at least not easily), but how long would it take for your mind to break if would were tortured with pain for long enough? The characters were the other excellent part of this novel, my personally favourite being Victor (but I’ll admit I do love me a fictional bad boy). Despite being about superheroes, I don’t actually believe there are any heroes in Vicious, though Sydney’s story was quite sad, especially since she was only a child. I found Eli to be one of the most complex characters – he is the most terrifying type of villain, the one who unflinchingly believes himself to be a hero and who is dedicated to his own twisted set of ethics.

There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t enjoy as much. I didn’t really believe in the friendship between Eli and Victor, which was shown in flashback chapters throughout the first half of the book. I think because so little time was spent showing them as friends, most spent showing how they each became EO, the reader is told rather than shown this friendship. But then again, I think in some ways this was the point – that they had never truly been friends, but believed they had been. My main problem was the character of Angie, Eli’s girlfriend and Victor’s unrequited love. I felt that she wasn’t much of a character and before the read could get to know her she is killed off, simply to begin the feud between the two men. This is a widely used plot device within comic books and superhero stores, known colloquially as ‘women in fridges’, and I was very sad to see it appear in the works of a woman whom I admire.

Overall, this was a very good book, and with the somewhat open ending, I can only hope for a sequel.

4 stars.

September Classic Challenge: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

For September, I am reviewing Lord of the Flies, a novel about the line between man and animal. When a group of boys crash land on a deserted island they are torn between becoming a civilised society and a bunch of savages. It questions how far mankind’s nature is from that of animals.

526Title: Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

Publication Date: 1954

Rating: 2.5 stars

Review:

Stranded on a desert island, with no adults, a group of young boys must learn how to survive and function as a society. Ralph, a natural leader, gets nominated as chief and pushes all their efforts into keeping a signal fire lit. Not everyone thinks this is important; Jack believes that hunting is the key to survival, and he will do anything necessary to take power from Ralph. But there is something out there, hiding in the forest. The boys know it only as ‘the beast’ and laugh at the idea of a monster, but in the dark of the night they only know something is coming.

As a comment on the functions and breakdown of society, and how mankind is not much more than an animal if we allow ourselves to give in to our base urges, Lord of the Flies is an interesting yet extremely heavy handed book. It’s interesting that William Golding uses children to make his point, as it shows the gap between being a child and being an adult, but could also be seen as a comment on how children are more like animals – during our childhood we learn how to become more civilised, eventually becoming fully functioning members of society when we become adults. The fact that the stranded group were all young boys also makes a point. I believe this would have been a very different book if it had been only girls on the island – more discussion/arguing and less bloodshed, for a start. However, had it been a mix of both genders, I believe it would have been similar, only the competition between the boys would have been a lot more upfront and the attention from a girl would have indicated rank.

It is agreed that there is a lot of symbolism in this book, with the main characters representing Democracy, Dictatorship, Science, and Religion. Personally, I didn’t find this all to be very clear. Whilst I could see Ralph and Jack as Democracy and Dictatorship – with Ralph as the leader wanting to discuss issues, and Jack’s tactics of propaganda and scapegoating – the roles of Piggy and especially Simon weren’t as clear. To me, Piggy was just the voice of reason and I wasn’t sure what Simon was meant to represent. The scene with Simon and the pigs head seemed random and disconnected from the rest of the story.

As for reading and enjoying Lord of the Flies, for what is a very interesting plot the book itself is dull. I enjoy stories, and found this book to be too much about ‘The Message’.

2.5 stars

Series Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to a special series review, where I review all the books in a series I love in one go. This week’s series is the amazing Grisha Series by Leigh Bardugo; a Russian inspired world where one girl discovers she is the Sun Summoner, gifted with the power of light, and must fight against the darkness spreading over the land, and the man who can control it.

Today is the second novel in this series: Siege and Storm.

14061955Title: Siege and Storm

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha #2

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

After hiding from the world for a few months Alina and Mal are betrayed and handed over to The Darkling, who has not only survived the Shadow Fold but gained a terrifying new power. They travel as prisoners on a pirate ship across the True Sea, hunting and capturing the mythical ice dragon known as the Sea Whip, to use its scales as another amplifier. The Darkling’s disturbing new plan to control both Alina and the Shadow Fold nearly comes into fruition – until the Captain, Sturmhond, steals the Sea Whip and escapes with both Alina and Mal across the Shadow Fold and back to Ravka.

After only just surviving an attack on the Fold, Strumhond reveals his true identity and his plans to fight against The Darkling, but he needs Alina’s help. Taken back to the Little Palace, Alina struggles to juggle uniting and leading the other Grishas, play politics with the Royal Family, dealing with the public belief that she is a Saint, and keep her relationship with Mal from falling apart. When she discovers that there is a third and final mythical creature that can be used as an amplifier, Alina has to face whether her desire for this power is just her duty to defeat The Darkling, or for her own gain.

If Shadow and Bone begins the series in with a familiar fantasy story, Siege and Storm throws out these well known and used ideas, and carves out its own path in a completely unpredictable way. It’s a thrilling book, full of surprising twists that work to make a brilliantly entertaining and clever read. One of the main causes of these twist is the character Strumhond, the notorious privateer who is not who everyone believes him to be. With a reputation for being charmingly clever as well as a cut-throat, he and his ship are for hire to the highest bidder – but you can never trust that you are in fact the highest bidder. Brilliantly scheming, charmingly witting, and a naturally confidant leader, Shurmhond is a new favourite character.

This book not easy on its treatment of Alina. She is struggling to fight a war and accept her responsibilities as the Sun Summoner by embracing her power whilst trying to still remain herself, despite finding that she is becoming increasingly tempted by the idea of more. She is terrified of turning into a monster, like The Darkling, but can’t stop herself thinking about him, and though she denies it, she is beginning to relate to him. Alina also has to deal with the expectations of the public believing her to be a Saint, the weight of her duty to save Ravka and being “holy” slowly crushing her spirit, but not her determination. Alina is a wonderfully written character, becoming even more real in this book. Her strength is admirable and her inner conflicts make her a relatable character, and just like the plot she makes some surprising but great choices.

The only setback to Siege and Storm was the ongoing relationship drama between Alina and Mal, mainly caused by Mal’s stubborn belief that Alina thinks her power makes her better than him. Whilst the reader can see through Alina’s narrative that this not true, it is obvious that her power does drive a wedge between them. This gives Alina another complication with obtaining the last amplifier, as she will have to eventually choose between her power and Mal. Mal, however, comes across as fairly selfish because of this and becomes just one more person demanding something from Alina.

 

It’s impossible to to predict where the next book, Ruin and Rising, will go, but I personally cannot wait to see what will happen. My only complaint is that the next book is sadly the last. This series is highly recommended.

4.5 stars.