Author: Libba Bray
Publication Date: 9/18/12
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Blurb(GR): Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.
This is actually my sixth Libba Bray book (although I never quite made it through Going Bovine). It’s also the sixth book of hers that I’ve liked but haven’t loved. I’m not sure why I keep coming back. I think that Libba Bray is a hilarious person, a talented writer, and I agree with pretty much all of the views she writes about (most entertainingly) on her blog. And yet, I never seem to connect with her books.
It’s hard to pinpoint one precise reason why this disconnect keeps cropping up, but one thing I have noticed is that her books consistently leave me feeling overwhelmed and fatigued. I feel like she never does anything subtly or realistically. Everything is over the top – cartoonish even. In this case, I felt repeatedly smacked across the face with the fact that this book takes place in the twenties. The slang, descriptions of the characters’ appearances, and the name-dropping of various locales and historical figures all got incredibly tiresome to me. YES, I get it. WE ARE IN THE TWENTIES. Only, this never feels like any real time period – it’s more like the twenties as visualized by the directors of The Hudsucker Proxy or Sin City – i.e., completely exaggerated comic book versions that have little to do with the real thing.
This book is also has a very odd timeline. It feels like a series of origin stories for a cast of superheroes all laid out in a row with no middles or endings – like the beginnings of about seven comic books all laced together. And on top of that, the background stories really aren’t that original. This cast could easily fit into any superhero team. They have their troubled pasts, their secret powers, and of course – their hidden depths. I’ve consumed my share of superhero entertainment and although this lot are all of the occult flavor, which is somewhat novel, there’s nothing really new about them. And with background/origin stories taking up about 80% of the book, even the ones I liked started to get tedious.
Okay, yes. There is one character who doesn’t fit the mold – but mostly in the way that you’ll be scratching your head going “One of these things is not like the otherrrsss….” He stands out, not because his story is original, but because he doesn’t fit.
The overarching mystery is also pretty unoriginal and wasn’t enough to tie it all together for me. There’s a ritual serial killer with ties to a strange cult. He must complete a certain number of murders, all following a specific plan by a specific time. And of course, the main characters never suspect that they will in fact be a part of his final pièce de résistance. Am I the only one who’s seen Se7en? The final act involves you! That’s practically written in the contract! The odd thing is that the mystery wraps up well before the end of the book (and rather lamely, I might add) – leaving chapters and chapters to go – for (you guessed it) more background and origin story. And really, there are only 2-3 characters who are actually involved in the main mystery. The author makes a small effort to include some of the others but really I just ended up wondering why all of these characters were even introduced in the first place. Pre-planning for book two is my best guess.
Which I guess is good news for book two. With the foundation so thoroughly built, hopefully there will be room in the second book for all of these characters to finally come together and form the mystical crime fighting team I know they’re destined to be. Based on the rather large amount of backstory Bray’s already provided here, I can see a lot of where book two is headed (and possibly even book three). I strongly doubt that this will be one of those series that meanders and goes on too long. It’s clear that Libba Bray has a definite plan for these characters in mind, and that gives me hope. She has a really well-rounded cast here and now that she’s spent so much time giving us their life-stories, I hope she can send them all out to have more exciting adventures.
I also have to give fair warning: It appears that the new love triangle is in fact, a LOVE SQUARE.
Update: I saw these tweets the other day and now I'm not so confident about book two.
Louis Armstrong - Heebie Jeebies