Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray

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Featuring these books during this week is a borderline orgasmic experience for me because—as if you haven’t heard me say this just about a non-hyperbolic million and two times on this blog, and elsewhere—I love them. I love everything about them—every last bit, except maybe Rebel Angels’s title—and in fact they’re on my list of top five favorite YA series of all times.

I will try to maintain the shrilly fangirl tone to a minimum and contain myself, but there are no guarantees. *grins*

A Great and Terrible Beauty
It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?



Rebel Angels
Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy—spending time with her friends in the city, attending balls in fancy gowns with plunging necklines, and dallying with the handsome Lord Denby. Yet amid these distractions, her visions intensify—visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened that only the realms can explain.

The lure is strong, and soon Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world that Gemma takes them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms—or out. Kartik is back, desperately insisting to Gemma that she must bind the magic, lest colossal disaster befall her. Gemma is willing to comply, for this would bring her face-to-face with her late mother's greatest friend, now Gemma's foe—Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task. . . .

The Sweet Far Thing
It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.

The Order - the mysterious group her mother was once part of - is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence's burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

My collective thoughts on the series:
I saw a review on GoodReads that I thought was genius: I loved the juxtaposition of Victorian England, colonial India, and the fairy world. The protagonist doesn’t belong in any of them, and she recognizes that, which sets up the whole story: the outsider tries to find her niche. This is a very good analysis of the main setup of this novel. Something else I loved was the “mysterious young Indian man,” Kartik, who caused Gemma quite a bit of confusion and roused her sexual awakening. Which in turn added an angle of accessibility in an otherwise foreign, historical setting, because all these emotions Gemma couldn’t make sense of are the same *we* modern-day girls can’t, either.

Beyond that, I liked the diversity in the characters, particularly Gemma’s friends. Everyone criticizes them for being unlikable and whatnot but if compared to any other YA novel, they’ll probably come off more real than the cast there.

A quality I really admire in this series is how vividly drawn they are. It’s very easy to picture everything taking place, which I assume comes from Libba Bray’s mastery of description and her background in theater.

Really, I keep searching for ways to convince those who haven’t read these to read them, and I know what a cop-out it is to be all, “Just read and you’ll understand,” but there’s absolutely nothing more I can say. These books are fabulous, and as far as I’m concerned, only second to Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld in order of recommendations. A+ all the way.

P.S. About The Sweet Far Thing: why, Libba, why?! I understand, I do, but why?!

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Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

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20 comments:

anilee said...

I've got mixed feelings about these books. On the one hand, they're awesome. But the writing...kind of annoys me after a while, and when I tried to reread them, I just couldn't. But they're otherwise really really good.

Steph said...

Really? I love Libba's writing. <3 Subjectivity!

carmen alexis said...

I loved A Great and Terrible Beauty! I just got Rebel Angels the other day. Can't wait to read it. =)

Alessandra said...

I'm going to read A Great and Terrible Beauty soon, can't wait to start it :)

Okie said...

This is one of those series I keep intending to get into and I haven't yet. I love the Goodreads quote you mentioned...it makes these books seem all the more intriguing.

Maybe over Christmas break...

Hillary said...

I liked the second and third books more. But the cover of the first is amazing. But they are really good books.

Becky said...

Rebel Angels is my favorite of the trilogy, though I enjoyed all three. I share in your P.S. though. I just can't 'like' the ending to Sweet Far Thing. But these are great books to highlight at this time of year--it's so nice and satisfying to sink into a good book series.

jocelyn said...

Ohhh I really need to reread the first two and read the third. I was waiting to read the third until I had time to reread the first two, and it never actually happened. But your post made me remember how awesome they are!

Alea said...

Got the first book, haven't read it yet. :P

Yan said...

I also just got the first book (a couple of hours ago XD ) and it looks good from what I've been hearing =)

Amee said...

Wow, people think Gemma's friends aren't likeable? I liked them all, even Felicity who was the resident bitch of Spence Academy. Maybe I liked them because they're so real like you said. Anyway, sooo glad you got me into Libba and this series. :D

Khy said...

I LOVE THIS SERIES! I love it almost as much as I love David Levithan. Almost.

Plus I completely agree about The Sweet Far Thing. *tear*

Sarahbear9789 said...

I love the books.
Also, Khy loves them almost as much as David Levithan... wow.

Nina said...

I agree with Amee... except I didn't like Pippa very much near the end, she was much too... greedy, IDK. But very real.

But yeah, *everyone* was real in this series, I especially liked Gemma on the third book, her struggle to deal with a power as great as the one she held... that was incredibly awesome. I still remember the quote: "absolute power corrupts absolutely". Don't think I'll ever forget.

Em said...

I love these books too. And I like the title Rebel Angels. Maybe cause Paradise Lost is one of my favorite works of literature. I just get the whole "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven" sentiment.

Holly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steph said...

Holly - this isn't the contest thread :) The post right after this one is: http://reviewerx.blogspot.com/2008/12/contest-signed-gemma-doyle-trilogy.html

Sorry for being picky but I'll totally forget you enter by the time I do the drawing. Maany things going on and I can't keep track of it all!

ellie_enchanted said...

I really love Libba Bray's writing. I've read all three books, and I like them a lot.
One problem I have with them, though, is that the plot is a little too confusing. There are so many sub-plots to keep track of and, thinking back, I'm not entirely sure what happened in the end.

I love Kartik, though, so that overrules any problems... except for that one little point that people have hinted at here.

Faith said...

love love love this series. I wish ms bray would write more novels set in this same world.

Lis and Chelle said...

I love these books sooo much. In fact when I started my job (I'm a Youth Services Librarian) I was the only person in my region that had ever heard of Libba Bray. I have since ordered all of the books in this trilogy and we can't keep them on the shelf. Thank you for a wonderful review and for your "why, Libba, why?" comment...I agree completely!!!

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