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Book Review

This supernatural thriller by Libba Bray is the first in the "Diviners" series published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group Inc.

The Diviners is written for kids ages 14 to 18 years. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

It's 1926. When 17-year-old Evie's gin-induced shenanigans threaten to disgrace the family name, her parents send her to stay with Uncle Will in New York. Evie is secretly delighted. She can't wait to take in the bustling city with its jazz, speakeasies and shows. Her pen pal, Mabel, lives in Uncle Will's building, so Evie will have a partner in crime. She hopes the new surroundings will distract her from her vivid nightmares and her strange, disturbing ability to read people's histories by touching their personal items.

When Evie arrives in New York, she's wooed and pick-pocketed by a handsome young man named Sam Lloyd. She learns her uncle's business, The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, is facing bankruptcy. Sam joins the small museum staff. Evie tries to help Uncle Will and his assistant, Jericho, drum up publicity. When the police ask Will to lend his insight into a string of gory ritual murders, Evie, Sam and Jericho help out. Evie uses her supernatural abilities to get information from the deceased victims.

Meanwhile, 17-year-old Memphis Campbell runs numbers for the superstitious residents of Harlem. Since the death of their mother and abandonment by their father, Memphis and his beloved younger brother, Isaiah, live with their Aunt Octavia. Memphis dreams of making his mark in the world as a writer, and he often does his writing in a cemetery. He also has nightmares as terrifying and cryptic as Evie's. Memphis emerged from an illness at age 14 with the ability to heal people.

Evie becomes friends with Theta, a Ziegfeld dancer in her building. Theta lives with a gay piano player named Henry. Both Theta and Henry, as well as Sam and Isaiah, have unique supernatural gifts like Memphis' and Evie's. Will tells Evie about the prophesies of a long-dead woman who said people with powers, called Diviners, would eventually be needed to save and protect the world.

Evie and Will believe the serial murderer the police are tracking is actually the partial reincarnation of a man named John Hobbes. Decades earlier, he was a member of a cult called the Brethren. Evie and Will are convinced he is gradually being resurrected in conjunction with the arrival of a comet.

The Brethren believed in a text called The Book of the Holy Brethren, which includes a mixture of references from "Revelation" and biblical-sounding but occult-based teachings. Hobbes repeatedly states he is the Great Beast, the Dragon of Old. Each of his killings is based on one of 11 sacrificial rituals from The Book of the Holy Brethren.

When the comet gives him full bodily form, he intends to bring the end times and cleanse the world. Hobbes ingests the body parts of his victims to become stronger. Since he leaves the mark of a five-pointed star (or Pentacle) and a snake eating its tail on his victims, the press nicknames him the Pentacle Killer.

Evie investigates a run-down mansion called Knowles End. Its original owner was a woman named Ida. When young, she became enamored with spiritualism after the death of her parents. She invited many card readers and mediums to visit, but became close with one named Mary White and her partner, John Hobbes. Eventually, Mary and Hobbes bought the place from Ida, still allowing her to live there. They began to poison her slowly while they performed drug-induced ceremonies for strangers in the rooms below.

Theta and Memphis develop a romance while Evie and Jericho grow closer by working together on the case. Jericho eventually admits he is a human hybrid, rebuilt by the military after he suffered serious war injuries. The Pentacle Killer murders Memphis' best friend and unsuccessfully targets Theta.

Evie, Will and Jericho sneak into the town where Hobbes is buried. They dig him up and take his pendant, planning to get rid of his body. When Jericho and Evie go to look for Hobbes at Knowles End, the killer captures them. The house comes supernaturally alive at Hobbes' command. In the nick of time, Evie chants the phrases that suck Hobbes' spirit into his pendant, supposedly destroying him permanently.

Will agrees to let Evie stay with him in New York. Ominous events and dreams indicate the Diviners will soon be called upon to fight more evil in the world.

Christian Beliefs

Evie's family was Catholic-turned-Episcopalian. She lost any faith she might have developed when her brother was killed in the war. Uncle Will gives a lecture on the existence of God and discusses evil and free will. When captured by Hobbes, a young woman whispers a prayer in Polish.

Will mentions the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Memphis' Aunt Octavia is a devout church-goer. She likes to make herself and others worry about the end of the world. She tries to force Memphis to say the 23rd Psalm with her to pray the Devil out of Isaiah during one of his sleepwalking episodes.

Memphis cries out and curses, maybe to God, but he's not sure. He later says thank you, though he doesn't know to whom he's saying it or why. Another time, he wonders aloud to Aunt Octavia what God has done for him and his family, and why he should pray to Him. He rails about God taking his mother, hurting his brother and causing his father to be absent. Aunt Octavia tells him she'll take care of the praying.

Other Belief Systems

Drunken teens with no belief in the spirit realm play with an Ouija board at a party. Evie's uncle runs a museum focusing on folklore and the occult. It's filled with photos of spirits and books on topics such as alchemy, astrology, numerology, voudon, mediums, healers and ghost sightings.

Evie lies and tells Sam she's in town to join a convent. He believes it's a waste for a pretty girl to do so. He says now that the world has Freud and the motorcar, God is dead. Evie replies that God isn't dead, just very tired.

When students ask if Will believes in the supernatural, he points out that a number of unexplainable dreams, prophesies, Indian spirit walkers, faith healings and the like have been recorded throughout history. He later tells Evie he doesn't believe in a God who would allow some of the horrors that are occurring. Evie is struck by the Brethren's hatred for outsiders and militant conviction for their beliefs. Will says there is nothing scarier than the absoluteness of a person who believes he is right. People like this sometimes allow their fear to hold the rest of the world back from progress.

Mabel claims to be an atheist. She quotes Karl Marx, saying religion is the opiate of the masses. Talking to a blind man in Harlem, Memphis agrees that no god — the white man's or any other — is on their side. Jericho reads Nietzsche to Evie, sharing the concepts that God is dead and remains dead. He tells her about his friend who, like him, received treatments to become a human hybrid. The man pleaded with God to make the doctors stop the process. Jericho helps the man hang himself to put him out of his misery. Jericho says he wasn't worried about whether God would forgive him because God's forgiveness doesn't matter.

The Brethren frequently use God's name, along with skewed biblical references and Christian principles to justify their fanatical behavior. Evie's research indicates the Brethren also involved themselves in unsavory sexual acts, cannibalism and human sacrifice. Evie thinks about her brother's death and ponders how people are just chess pieces moved around by the hands of a universe that is bored with itself.

Will tells Evie about a prophetic woman who foretold a coming period of darkness. The woman called people with powers like hers Diviners. She said Diviners, who could do things like walk in dreams and see or speak to the dead, had power that came from the great energy of the land and its people. They would be needed during this coming storm.

Evie performs a ritual to banish John Hobbes from the mortal world. The house in which Hobbes lived during his life comes alive supernaturally under his direction.

Authority Roles

Evie's parents send her away to her uncle's so she won't further disgrace the family. Uncle Will tries unsuccessfully to keep his young ward from partying. He allows her to become involved in gory and horrific murder investigations and teaches her a great deal about the occult. Pious Aunt Octavia tries fruitlessly to convince her nephews to follow God or conscience.


The Lord's name is misused repeatedly. Words including d--n, h---, piss and b--ch also appear often.

Hobbes brands a woman's chest and removes her eyes. He cuts off another victim's hands. When Hobbes was a child, his pastor father and the congregation branded Hobbes repeatedly with symbols of their faith. The congregation burned itself to death in a barn, children included. Evie's dreams include graphic scenes of people with flesh peeling back from bone, missing eyes, melting limbs and horrific screams of terror.

Mary kills her husband for infidelity by putting arsenic in his sherry. She sits and reads poetry while he writhes and shakes before dropping dead. John Hobbes later convinces her it was a preordained plan to punish the man for his wickedness and allow her to get his inheritance to help the Brethren. Jericho helps a limbless fellow soldier hang himself.

As Hobbes prepares to sacrifice Evie, bloody, skeletal corpses surround her. They are spirits of the dead Brethren who burned themselves alive 50 years earlier. Two old women in Evie's building cut into their live cat and pull out its intestines, leaving the bloody corpse for later. A man reaches into a rabbit's chest and withdraws its still-beating heart.


Couples in Evie's circle frequently sit in cars petting. Evie divines that one of her male friends has knocked up a hotel chambermaid and has given her money to "take care of" the problem. Sam steals a kiss from Evie in the train station, right before he steals her money.

Theta lives with a gay man named Henry whom she tells others is her brother. Memphis frequents a club with scantily clad dancers. A gay man is killed in his Masonic lodge after thinking about his lover. Henry takes Theta to a gay men's club, where she helps him connect with a man he's been admiring.

Theta and Memphis kiss. Whores and perverts are mentioned as part of the street population. Hobbes rails against the Whore of Babylon on a number of occasions. Theta recalls an old boyfriend's physical and sexual abuse. In some detail, Theta she remembers an attempted rape by her former boyfriend.

Members of the Brethren chant "harlot" as Evie walks by. Evie imagines kissing and caressing Jericho. He imagines kissing and making love to her. They eventually kiss one another passionately.

Theta recalls discovering her pregnancy after leaving her violent boyfriend. She starts to get a back-alley abortion but can't bring herself to go through with it. Henry becomes her hero when he sells his piano so she can get an abortion in an expensive but sanitary location.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol and drugs: Evie and other young characters do a great deal of drinking, in spite of prohibition. Evie's mother, a leader in her local temperance movement, disapproves of Evie's partying lifestyle. Hobbes and Mary use drugs in their rituals, and Memphis' friend uses drugs at a party right before he's killed.

Gambling: Memphis is a numbers runner, helping people place bets on all kinds of things. The Harlem community members he serves live by numbers, convinced they'll strike it rich by pulling their winning patterns from billboards, birthdays or hymnals.

Lying: Evie lies frequently, often just for fun.

Prejudice: The killer targets foreigners and a homosexual in his efforts to cleanse the earth. A group Evie investigates called The Pillar of Fire Church has strong ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Eugenics proponents at a county fair offer testing to passers by. They suggest only a small percentage of people are genetically pure, while most are mentally or physically defective. They say they want to help correct what is sick in society.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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