Evie O’Neill is the quintessential flapper: a girl who likes jazz and speakeasies and has the power to guess people’s secrets by touching their possessions. Trust me, that’s what everyone did in the Roaring Twenties. Almost every character in the book is a Diviner, which is to say a person with special abilities. But I’m getting sidetracked. That’s another thing that happens a lot in the book, sidetracking. I’ll come back to it. After her power causes a bit of a commotion in her town, Evie is sent to live with her uncle in New York. All sorts of cool and interesting things happen in the city, like ritualistic serial killings. Uncle Will runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult and he’s helping the police investigation, and Evie decides that it’d be ~the cat’s pajamas~ to tag along to a murder scene. This in hindsight proves to be a terrible idea because mutilated corpses are gross, and also because the killer might be a little supernatural and a lot determined to finish the job. Really, Evie, anyone could have told you that it was a terrible idea.
So, about Evie. She’s not an easy character to like because she’s very spoiled and inconsiderate and her main concern for the first half of the book are her clothes and whether she can get drunk at a party that night. But, for all her flaws, I liked her a lot. She’s a far cry from the usual pure and selfless heroine, and sometimes I just need to read about a main character who says this is me, this is what I want, I’m doing it for myself and damn the consequences.
Some mornings, she’d wake and vow, Today, I will get it right. I won’t be such an awful mess of a girl. I won’t lose my temper or make unkind remarks. I won’t go too far with a joke and feel the room go quiet with disapproval. I’ll be good and kind and sensible and patient. The sort everyone loves. But by evening, her good intentions would have unraveled. She’d say the wrong thing or talk a little too loudly. She’d take a dare she shouldn’t, just to be noticed. Perhaps Mabel was right, and she was selfish. But what was the point of living so quietly you made no noise at all?
The supernatural murder plot was suitably creepy, and I wish I didn’t have such a vivid imagination because there were quite a lot of detailed descriptions of grisly murder scenes. The mythology that Libba Bray came up with was very interesting. In general, the whole setting is great and it did really feel as if I was living in the 1920s for a while. I’ve read some reviews that mention the overuse of expressions like “the cat’s meow”, “giggle water”, “pos-i-tute-ly”… I have to disagree, I felt that the use of those expressions was very appropriate. Because it’s Evie who keeps using those words over and over, and it fits with her character of bad teenage girl who annoys her elders by overusing slang terms. In terms of setting, this book is pretty much perfect for me.
My only problem, and it’s a big problem, is that there are a lot of useless sidecharacters and subplots that go nowhere. The author had a story to tell, and it was a cool story, with a definite beginning and a middle and an end. But because this book is the first in a series, there are a lot of chapters that do nothing but set up plot points that (I assume) will be resolved in the next books. Take Memphis for instance: I like him but he has almost no connection with the main plot, the pentacle killings. Every couple of chapters the action grinds to a halt because we have to go and see what Memphis is up to. I more or less skipped one of his chapters towards the end because another murder is happening, someone is dead, I do not care that Memphis is writing sad poetry in his journal! I like books with lots and lots of characters, but in this case I felt as if the pacing suffered because of all the characters and story hooks that the author was trying to cram into it.
Without all the pointless extra characters and plots, I would have given this book 4.5 out of 5 teacups. As it is, it’s a 3.5 at most: it was exhausting to get to the end of it, especially because the last chapter is a series of vignettes of all the minor characters and all unresolved subplots, and I hope you paid attention to the unnamed girl with green eyes who served Evie dinner thirty chapters back, because it looks like she’s a Diviner too! I’m not sorry I read this book and I would recommend it to fans of this time period and of paranormal, but I don’t think I’ll read the sequel. Also because the cover of the sequel is different and not nearly as pretty as this one. The second book in the series, Lair of Dreams, will be released this August.