Rebel Angels & The Sweet Far Thing (by Libba Bray) – The Gemma Doyle Trilogy

28 11 2011

Since the cat read part 2 and 3 of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy in the span of a week or so, it didn’t really make a lot of sense to write down a separate review for the 2 books. The one-week thing should tell you something. I mean, parts 2 and 3 have a page count of well over 1300 pages, but it’s not like Libba makes it hard on the reader: both books still have the gothic flair of A Great and Terrible Beauty and on top of that, the girl can spin a metaphor like the best of them. What is more, Libba’s prose always keeps on having that natural flow despite her many attempts at Victorian linguistic Britishisms. Anyway, once in a while you’d wish she’d stopped herself to look back on what she’d already written, because redundancy is quickly catching up with her… Where’s that editor when you need him/her???

In Rebel Angels, it is Gemma’s job to ‘bind the magic’ which she’d unleashed after destroying the runes at the end of A Great and Terrible Beauty. At the same time the reader gets to deal with a new mysterious teacher, the replacement of Miss Moore. All this plays out nicely at Spence academy, but a large part of the novel is also set in London itself at Christmas time: balls, balls, tea parties, more balls, more tea parties and proper young ladies. Oh and Kartik is there too.

In The Sweet Far Thing, Gemma has managed to bind the magic, but now all the different creatures of the realms are in a state because they all want a piece of it/her. Not only that, the Order, the Rakshana, her grandmother… Gemma’s everyone’s favorite girl, except she’s not, of course, and then there’s this blasted thing called her ‘debut’ in society.  Gemma is a girl with issues, clearly!

The whole shtick about the Gemma Doyle trilogy of course is the quest for a girl’s independence. Throughout the trilogy we get to see different ways of dealing with ‘constraints’ (corsets, anyone?). Gemma, the girl with the magic who has *all* the power in the realms, feels totally insignificant when it comes to dealing with the duties and obligations set for her in ‘London society’. With great power comes great responsibility.  And clearly Gemma doesn’t quite grasp that yet, until she is made painfully aware of that by the ‘real’ life problems her family and friends have to deal with.

However, that is not to say that this trilogy, and especially the concluding part of it, is without its flaws… it’s not. Again, with an 800+ page count, you’d better make sure that what you say is worth it…for all those 800+ pages… And though the overall message that Libba wants to convey does shine through, you gotta wonder whether it really was necessary to have Gemma, Felicity and Anne go into the realms one minute, and then out of them again the next, and into the realms, and out of them and into…and…well you get my drift. Get on with the point of the story already, right? And she does… the cat definitely thought the Victorian society bits of the story were the stronger point of The Sweet Far Thing , but then Libba wouldn’t be Libba if she didn’t try to put it *all in*. There seems to be no contemporary issue that doesn’t deserve to be mentioned: self-harm? Check! Child abuse? Check! Gay romance? Check (but where the hell did that one come from? Definitely not from the first part where Felicity was happily snogging that male gypsie!)! I mean, we get it, life as a teenager in Victorian society was as complicated, and not really all that different, if you come to think of it, as today’s teenager’s… In the end it all boils down to a simple question: what choice are you going to make?

Libba has ideas. Many ideas. She can write. About many things. Quite well. But Libba needs an editor!  Where’s that corset when you need it?

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