I knew before I started this that I might not love it, despite the amazing reviews. But I gave it a shot because it had all of my favorite things: 1920’s setting in Manhattan, the occult, a thriller genre, & just the right amount of romance as to not overpower the plot.
Evie O’Neill is a seventeen year old from Zenith, Ohio (which according to my not-at-all-extensive research is not currently a real place, so don’t be offended, boring Ohio inhabitants). Her supernatural ability to read objects gets her butt sent to Manhattan to live with her Uncle Will. Together they, & the two romantic interests, Will’s adopted son named Jericho (hate that name), & a pickpocket named Sam, try to solve a string of murders circling Manhattan in the 1920’s. There’s a lot of side-story concerning Evie’s friend Mabel, their newly acquired friend Theta, and a story about a boy named Memphis that (eventually) connects to the main characters. But all you really need to know is the majority of these kids have some occult-like powers to predict bad omens or they have some secret & creepy past that maybe, might, eventually, hopefully, for the love of God, finally be revealed. There are just way too many mini-mysteries that get dragged out.
The main problem was that Bray shoves the 1920’s into every sentence for the first half of the book. She randomly forces in cultural references to prove the book’s authority of the time & setting, but they seem out of place within the context of the story. She overuses popular 1920’s slang so much it sounds clunky. “I’m on the trolley!” “The cat’s meow!” “And how! Pos-i-lute-ly!” Tone it back a bit, or learn how to slide it into the dialogue so that it reads naturally. There’s no need for Evie to explain every phrase to her uncle for the reader to understand it. I felt like Bray did a great deal of historical research about the 1920’s, but none of it feels natural. It’d be like walking around today & pointing out every single cultural reference & technological advancement in conversation with my friends.
“What’s poppin, bae? Are you taking a hashtag selfie?”
“No, nothing, just typing stuff on my Mac while I listen to Taylor Swift off my iPhone.”
“Me too! Want to go to the Webster Hall tonight? Because that is a popular young spot in NYC & a great way to indicate a time & place reference, even though we’d never go there!”
It reads like a soccer mom trying to be hip with her 1920’s grandparents is my point.
The mystery/thriller plot took FOREVER to get to! There’s no need for the book to be this long. Whatever backstory we need about Evie can come out of a few emotional scenes with James, not the same description five times. The more interesting backstory was actually Theta’s.
Then the actual murders didn’t happen until quite a ways through. The initial Oujia board scene? Nothing to do with the plot. Each of the murder victims backstories? Boring. Sure a lot of this stuff sets the tone. Bray likes to give random side-character, after side-character a backstory to cover all angles. But they end up sounding the same & stereotypical. That kind of fluff is fun for the author & great for developing the story, but I don’t think it’s necessary or interesting to read after a while. Plus the head-hopping was terrible! POV switches without any indication that you’re going into another character’s head is frustrating as hell.
But she does get points for creating a thoroughly spooky villain. I hate nursery horror songs. I didn’t read this book at night. Yes, I’m a scaredy cat. I hate the horror genre. The gruesome, creepy stuff definitely doesn’t hold back. I’m also happy there’s not too much description about the majority of the occult bits. Although Miss Lillian & Miss Addie seem very unnecessary as of right now. I’m assuming their role will be more important in the next book.
The romance was eh. I don’t entirely knock the love triangle trope when it’s done a certain way, but it was pretty annoying in this book. I think I’m experiencing the same problem I had with The Hunger Games. It seems like Bray is trying to set up Sam’s character as the not-so-great choice with all the big, bad wolf symbolism (I recently saw Into the Woods, so maybe I’m projecting) &Jericho as the nicer, more stable choice. I am all for this, but in the same way I hated Peeta, I really can’t stand Jericho. I’m sorry, but if you give a girl this amazing Aladdin-esque character & then talk about how the other option is a real stick-in-the-mud for the first half of the book, who do you think she’s going to side with? There’s no defining turn that makes Jericho that much of a better choice in my opinion. This triangle can develop over the next books, but right now it seems gimmicky. The romance didn’t overpower the plot though, which was refreshing. However, the real relationship I wish we got to see more interaction between is Theta’s & Henry’s brotherly/sisterly love. They are adorable.
The one thing I did enjoy, that people who disliked the book had a problem with, was Evie’s character. People claim she’s selfish & ditzy, but she’s proven herself to be fairly intelligent throughout the series. I really wouldn’t be surprised if she’s actually her Uncle’s child or something along those lines because she’s so intelligent. Her selfishness is great! Who doesn’t know somebody like her? Plus it gives her room to grow as a character. I’ve always had a tough time reading typical YA “chick-lit” (bad term, but it gets my point across) because the main character is always shy, bookish, introverted, & a pushover. Finally we have a character who is smart, but parties! I think the 1920’s time period is the perfect time period for this character. Think of all the great literary authors from that period who were notorious drinkers & partiers.
Overall, Bray just seemed to copy a caricature of the 1920’s. She hasn’t created anything particularly new here. The book is incredibly slow to pick up the pace, but once it does it’s not that bad. I don’t know if I’ll get the next in the series as of yet. The actual plot is intriguing enough, & the characters are fun, but there’s just too much excess that’s not worth reading. Perhaps I’ll just stick to actual 1920’s stories for my next read…
Oh, but I did love the music references! I understand Libba Bray has her own playlist. But I made my own on Spotify including a lot of the songs she mentions directly in the text, as well as some songs from that era that I like. I did this for the list of songs that Maggie Stiefvater supplies for her playlist in The Raven Cycle & Alex Gilvarry’s From the Memoir of A Non-Enemy Combatant as well. So if you want to follow my Spotify, I’m going to start doing this with a lot of the books I read.