I was nervous about this book, because I love this time period, but I don't care much for estranged married couple romance. However, Ms. Raybourn tack...moreI was nervous about this book, because I love this time period, but I don't care much for estranged married couple romance. However, Ms. Raybourn tackles both with beautiful grace. This book has wonderful atmosphere and Evie and Gabriel are both very endearing characters. The adventure was a much appreciated bonus.
Quite morose in tone, however I was drawn into this family drama of a novel that travels smoothly between the early 20th century and the last decade o...moreQuite morose in tone, however I was drawn into this family drama of a novel that travels smoothly between the early 20th century and the last decade of that same century. Very emotionally involving, although certain characters were hard to feel sympathy for. Recommended to readers who are interested in the WW1 years and the 1920s.
Joe Golem and the Drowning City is a lovely sort of homage to HP Lovecraft and the Jewish golem folklore tradition. One wonders how they can exist tog...moreJoe Golem and the Drowning City is a lovely sort of homage to HP Lovecraft and the Jewish golem folklore tradition. One wonders how they can exist together harmoniously in the same work, but Mignola and Golden do exactly that.
New York City is a very different place from the one we know and love in this book. Some sort of ecological disaster turned half of the city into what is essentially a Venetian-like, water-logged environment. Downtown flooded, and those who lived there are cut off from the denizens of Uptown and forced to fend for themselves. Like humans are apt and known to do, they adapt to a semi-aquatic lifestyle, living on the top floors of the taller buildings, constructing bridges and mazeways between buildings and using watercrafts to navigate the flooded streets.
This novel is initially about two of its citizenry: An elderly magician named Felix Orlov, who can communicate with the dead, and his unofficially adopted daughter, fourteen-year-old, redheaded, former street kid, Molly McHugh. Their somewhat harmonious lifestyle is brutally interrupted when strange, inhuman creatures abduct Felix, failing to capture Molly when she is saved by a big, rough-looking man named Joe. Joe is special, more than they realize initially. His colleague is the ancient British gentleman, Simon Church, a man who has adapted his failing organs with mechanical parts (added a steampunk-like flair to the story). He also uses a mix of science, machinery, and magic to monitor the supernatural barometer of the city. He happens to detect a very large spike in activity the day that Felix is kidnapped, and Molly teams up with them both to find out what happened to Felix and to save him and save the world in the process.
This is a rather solemn tale. Joe's past is very tortured, and along with Simon's regrets about the past, and Felix's special legacy, the storyline is fairly dark. Molly is a spunky and energetic young woman, who's seen more bad things than a person of her age should. She has trouble trusting, with good reason. We feel her pain as she is helpless against forces that pull the man who is as close to a father to her as any man could be away from her by events beyond their control.
In addition to the somber tone, the Lovecraft-type storyline adds a cosmic horror to the story. While I am personally a bit alienated by Lovecraft's concept of an ancient, extra-dimensional cosmos and its denizens (which are indifferent to our moral concepts and even our right to exist as humanity), Mignola and Golden add an emotional context that makes this typical idea more relatable and almost heartfelt.
One of the downsides to this book is the villain truly never feels invincible or formidable. He comes off more as a petulant child who is playing with matches (dabbling with magics and science far beyond his ken), than a disturbing force for evil. He felt like a paper tiger, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I need a villain who is truly formidable--one that I question if the hero will be able to prevail against. His creations were disgusting, and while repulsive and off-putting, they don't add much in a positive way to the creepy tone of the book.
Despite being somewhat disappointed with the villain, I was drawn to Joe's character, his painful struggle, his search for identity, and the integration of past and future. I also liked Molly. She feels like 'me' in the sense that she is the everyday person put in bizarre and non-ordinary circumstances. I think a good weird fiction tale needs that kind of protagonist.
Mignola just does it for me, with his stories and his creations. His collaborations with Golden have been unilaterally successful so far, and I add this one to the list. I hope to see more of Joe Golem and Molly McHugh, and more of the Drowning City. Recommended to weird fiction readers, and avowed fans of classic horror motifs and loving homages.(less)
Ironskin is a clever re-telling of Jane Eyre with a delicious heaping tablespoon of faerie thrown in. Since Jane Eyre is tied for my favorite book of...moreIronskin is a clever re-telling of Jane Eyre with a delicious heaping tablespoon of faerie thrown in. Since Jane Eyre is tied for my favorite book of all time, I definitely loved that about this book. I appreciated catching the references to the original novel and reading the author's original story with her own ideas based on this beloved classic. In other words, this is not a word for word redux of Jane Eyre. Instead it's a "what if?" sort of take on the novel by Charlotte Brontë.
I am captivated with the post-World War I period and the twenties, and it was a big plus that this book is set somewhere in that late 1910s-early 1920s period. Also, the infusion of faerie into the modern period that would seem incongruous but wasn't. The Gothic atmosphere is prominent, and the menacing allure of faerie magic. Don't look for friendly fey in this book. They are mean and vicious, and terribly insidious. The fey storyline turns out to be quite interesting and unsettling. Connolly taps into the essence of Post-War morals, the shunning of deep things and an enhanced superficiality. Shallow above substance. While the Great War is quite different in this book, the scars it left on society are similarly wounding to the survivors, and the society grabs onto the bright phony allure when so little of the Pre-War way of life is left behind.
Most of the characters are walking wounded, with some who seem blatantly unsympathetic. It takes a while to see where Connolly was going, which impacted my rating, honestly. Even until the end, I felt ambivalent, and the story was rather ambiguous. And yet, there was something impactful about this book. I think Connolly connected to the aesthetic in me. The appeal was in the dreamy and artful descriptions of the house and characters and the manner in which she revealed characters, with descriptions and body language telling much of who the characters were even before they open their mouths. Additionally, the characters' emotions were seething off the page. For this reader, that always speaks loudly when reading a novel. Jane, a tortured heroine who is drifting and surviving, because she has no other choice. When she finds a home with Mr. Rochart and his daughter Dorie, she fears it's an elusive dream, because of persistent feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self-worth. In this way she differs from Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is ever-aware of her shortcomings, but her sense of self is so strong. She is a tiny ball of determination and powerful will. She refuses to settle for less than she deserves, even if that means denying herself the man she loves. This Jane has to grow into that, and while I wasn't happy with some of the choices she made, I was happy that she found the fighter within that was buried under a mountain of hurt. Mr. Rochart is more vague and lacks the vibrancy of Rochester. He's also not as abrasive as Rochester, which is an enduring part of this character's appeal to fans of the novel. But I think he's a better fit for this Jane. He's her Rochester in the end. Dorie had such an impact on me. The lonely, troubled child in need of love and care that Jane is able to connect with. She is one of those younger characters that inspires the mothering urge in me. Also Poule's character. I can't speak on her at length, since it would spoil what was a very novel part of this book.
While Ironskin was a good book, it just didn't satisfy me completely. There was a sense of inertia when I read. As though the story wanted to get someone but it wandered aimlessly in a series of ever-widening circles. I'm not sure if that effectively conveys how I felt as I read, but it's as close as I can articulate at this time. The aspects of this story that appealed to me are significant, which is why I would recommend reading it. I just wanted more momentum in this book. Ultimately, I did appreciate the underlying themes. It speaks on the power of substance and will over all that glitters. Also that our wounds and scars can make us stronger, because they are tangible evidence of the inner truth. That we are survivors, down deep. We must just find that core of strength to prevail over our doubts and fears to grab hold of what we desire and need most in this life.
I have to give it to Libba Bray. She captured the Roaring 20s in full color. I can tell she put some serious research into this book, but also endowed...moreI have to give it to Libba Bray. She captured the Roaring 20s in full color. I can tell she put some serious research into this book, but also endowed this period with her own spark and brought it to life for this reader.
This was an odyssey in some ways. A long read, and a long listen. Thinking about this book gives me an ambivalent feeling. The subject matter is very dark. The tone quite pessimistic. I realize that this is the authentic feeling of youngsters of this period. How can you believe in the fairy tales your parents tell you about God and country, about safety and peace when your older brothers and friends went to die in the Great War that seemed to have nothing to do with you in America? Especially when things aren't exactly fixed on the home-front? All that the old timers say seems to be hypocritical and designed to suck the life out of you. That they are selling you a dream you can afford to buy.
With this novel, Libba Bray captures that feeling of doubt and despair of this period, and how the Bright Young Things, the Flappers and their male counterparts, threw themselves into the party, the Now, instead of focusing on a future that didn't seem to belong to them anyway. I think my feeling of almost depression when this ended also related to the fact that I watched a documentary on Sunday night about the black American experience and how by and large most blacks never really had a chance at the ever-elusive American Dream, far from it. So I can feel that sense of disillusionment that some of the characters felt in this book, knowing how bad it must have been for many blacks during the 20s, and having false promises about how great America was rubbed in their faces because of their skin color and race, despite being born and raised in this great country.
She also shows the constant party atmosphere that was going on during Prohibition, bought at a hefty price, with the rise of gangster-related crimes in the cities. Immigrants who came to America to get a better life, find themselves living in falling down tenements and preyed upon and despised because they can't afford any better (or to buy into the American Dream). Doors slammed in their faces because of their ethnic origins. The rise of xenophobia and racial hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and espousing of racial purity through eugenics. I imagine it was a scary time indeed for youngsters like Evie, Jericho, Mabel, Theta, Memphis, Sam, and Henry. Much better to drown your sorrows in gin, constant partying, and watching movies on the Silver Screen, than to face the scary present and an uncertain future.
On top of that is a very real and very frightening supernatural peril, at a time where Modernism and self-determinism seems to counter beliefs in a supernatural God, must less anything like ghosts or even spiritual beliefs. How does one protect oneself against a ghost resurrected to continue his blasphemous work, when one doesn't even believe in that sort of thing, not as a Modern person? How can you conceal the fact that you have abilities that you are not able to explain in a rational sense?
Yes, combined together, this makes The Diviners not a fun read. At least most of the time. But it's very good. The characters were very vividly realized and I felt much sympathy for them even when I didn't agree with the choices they made. Evie, particularly, challenged me at times. Her reliance on drinking and her self-absorbed, questionable moral compass chafed at me. However, Bray shows the pain that lurks beneath her careless facade. Being the child who lived when her mother wanted her brother to come back from the War instead. Losing her only sibling to a war that didn't make any sense to her, and not even having a close relationship with her parents to console her. On top of that, her ability to read objects, and its effect on both her body (horrible dreams and headaches) and her reputation when she makes enemies by telling the truth, making her known as the weirdo who doesn't fit in. While Modernism seems the solution to the problems that she and many youngsters face, they run into the brick walls of establishment and parental authority, which is always telling them to follow rules that make no sense or have no personal relevance. Her dream to go to New York is a way to start her Real Life. She belongs there, where the party is, where she will fit in. However, she finds that many of her problems exist in New York as well, since she is answerable to her uncle, William Fitzgerald, and she's still considered a young girl to the establishment. When she gets involved in the case to find a ritualistic killer, her abilities give her a purpose and validation that she lacked before.
I appreciated how Bray uses each young character in this book as a frame of reference, across racial and social barriers, which the youth believe are artificial anyway. I sometimes questioned Bray's modern, almost Rainbow Coalition voice as I read, but with research into the era and the Modernist movement, it is clear that this voice was authentic to this era. I liked that she taught me a lot about the social politics of the time in the context of this fictional work. While I feel that this book has some very mature themes and dark themes and subject matter, I feel that it teaches important history lessons that a mature teen could benefit from. If I were a parent, I would suggest reading it first though.
The supernatural storyline was quite unnerving and disturbing. The tie into religious fanaticism made me uncomfortable, particularly in light of the fact that this was the major representation of modern belief in God in this story. I am not saying that Bray attacked religion, but perhaps these times were not as friendly overall to a positive view of Christianity not related to unpalatable social movements such as racial purity and isolationist xenophobia (keeping America pure). In the context of Memphis' journey as a young black man, Christianity doesn't seem to offer him much, since it has done little to improve either his life or the station of life for many people of his race. In the case of Evie, her parents' Episcopalian worship is strictly a social convention with little life or emotion. From that frame of reference, it's easy to see why this has no major influence on her own beliefs. Her friend Mabel's parents are atheistic social reformers, her father of Jewish background, and her mother a runaway socialite. In the case of Jericho, he renounced belief in a God who would abandon him to a life-threatening illness that changed his whole life. So when you have a killer who has grandiose beliefs of himself as the Beast who will bring about the end of the world, a very heretical corruption of Christian eschatology, it comes off as a very negative view of Christianity in general.
While Bray doesn't describe the murders in detail, she does show us the fear and the hopelessness of the victims of the killer, which was hard reading. Although society might consider them undesirable, to me, they were innocent human beings who didn't deserve what happened to them. I found it disturbing, although not gratuitous. Perhaps some readers wouldn't be as bothered. I admit I am a wimp when it comes to serial killers and psychopathic killers. It especially bothers me when religious imagery is mixed in with it.
While Evie's uncle Will is not a focus, I liked his character a lot. His scholarly bent and carefully disguised soft heart were a good foil for the younger characters. He is Old Guard, but the more time Evie spends with him, maybe he can show her that not all the values of the older generation are worthless. And maybe she can teach that it's okay to enjoy life and have a sense of emotional connection instead of viewing everything through a divorced and academic lens.
While I found the serial killer aspect disturbing, I like how this story sets up the series for a larger supernatural threat. I can definitely see this series building into something quite interesting and worthy of following.
Just a note about the narrator. She was excellent. She conveyed the characters very distinctly. I liked how she sang as well as speaking some of the parts. I felt like I was there in this period with her lively rendition on this audiobook.
The Diviners is a very good example of what young adult fiction has to offer to both teens and older readers who enjoy young adult books. I'd recommend it for the vivid and very faithful rendering of this intriguing time in history, the Roaring 20s, with an intriguing cast of characters that will bring me back to future books in this series.