The Diviners: Little Brown, September 2012, 578 pages, jacket illustration by I Love Dust. The Diviners is a young adult fantasy set in the roaring 1920's. In the prologue, a Ouija board brought out to liven up a party appears to set a malicious spirit free. The next two chapters are from the point of view of teenaged flapper Evie O'Neill, who lives in Ohio but is about to be sent off to New York, and Harlem numbers-runner Memphis Campbell. It seems Both Evie and Memphis have some supernatural abilities. Evie can divine people's secrets by handling an object of theirs, and Memphis is having dreams foreshadowing troubles ahead.
Libba Bray is a highly regarded YA author who often ventures into SF/F material, including in her Gemma Doyle trilogy, beginning with A Great and Terrible Beauty. The Diviners was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award and the Bram Stoker Award.
Sharkways: Damnation Books, September 2012, 126 pages, cover art by Dawné Dominique. The protagonist of Sharkways is real estate developer Bill Minto. The book opens with two chapters of Minto visiting a private hospital for migraines, in which we learn that Minto is overweight, obsessed with female body parts, paranoid, and has an alcoholic wife (who probably has an alcoholic husband). When the nurse takes a blood sample, he has a seizure, after which he hears the nurse and doctor have a bizarre conversation about whether he's been inside the sharkways. He then has an MRI, which proves inconclusive. The doctor tells him the migraines are probably caused by stress.
A.J. Kirby is the British author of six novels, either self-published or from small publishers, and dozens of short stories appearing in small press magazines, with emphasis on thrillers and horror.
The Battle: This is a classic example of what the first round of the Battle of the Books is all about. Give me a hook, something to trigger my interest and make me want to know more. An interesting character, an unusual setting, the beginnings of an intriguing storyline. Sentence by sentence, The Diviners and Sharkways are both decently written, with some nice turns of phrase, but only one of them meets my challenge.
I like the 1920's Manhattan setting of The Diviners, which promises to lend the book a distinctive energy. In contrast, the first two chapters of Sharkways are literally set in a white room.
I'm interested in the characters who have appeared in the opening of The Diviners, especially Evie O'Neill. She's not especially likable so far, seeming rather self-absorbed, but we can already tell her flamboyant personality is masking pain from her brother's death in the Great War and her cold treatment by her parents. I want to learn more about her and see how she develops when she arrives in New York. Meanwhile, the only character introduced through 25 pages of Sharkways is presented as a completely uninteresting slob.
Finally, the opening of The Diviners gives us to expect a story in which an evil spirit will come into contact with characters who are just starting to understand their psychic abilities. It's not a compelling storyline, but at least gives me something to look forward to. The opening 25 pages of Sharkways give us no hint of what kind of story to expect. Nothing of significance has happened except for the unexplained use of the word "Sharkways." The plot has simply not yet begun.
Perhaps Sharkways will yet turn into an enjoyable book, but Kirby's reluctance to get the story moving does not play well in the Battle of the Books format.
THE WINNER: The Diviners by Libba Bray
The Diviners advances to the second round to face Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye.
To see the whole bracket, click here.