Thursday, April 03, 2014

Book Review: The Sweet Far Thing, by Libba Bray

This book is the third in a trilogy and therefore this review will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, A Great and Terrible Beauty, and the second, Rebel Angels.

Circe defeated, all should be at peace, but the events of Rebel Angels have left Gemma unable to create the door of light and enter the realms. Try as she might, nothing works until she is drawn to a strange stone, uncovered during the rebuilding of the East Wing of Spence Academy. It turns out to be another way in, and she enters the realms once more to find all is not as it was. All too soon, Gemma, who now holds all of the power, is being threatened by the Order, the Rakshana, and the forest folk of the realms. They all want control - or at least a share - of the magic.

Gemma is desperate to delay her decision and hold on to the power for long enough to sort her life out and help her friends. While Gemma and Felicity go back and forth between Spence and London, preparing to finish school and make their debuts as young society women, worrying about getting their curtseys right when they are presented to Queen Victoria, Ann dreads her future life as governess to her cousin's horrible children.

The Sweet Far Thing is a long book. Eight hundred pages. It took me weeks to finish it, and I have to admit that I think that it's a little bit too long. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it a lot, but there was a lot of going back and forth and long scenes where very little happened, and as much as I loved the world it was set in I got a bit frustrated waiting for something to happen as Gemma spent day after day being indecisive.

Once everything does start to happen, it became a real page turner. I read most of the last half of the book in a day, but getting to that point took ages. I think the previous two books, both of which are shorter, have much tighter plots, although Gemma is always torn between different paths of action.

Gemma has always been an interesting narrator, a character who stands apart from all the world both because of her power and because she's a upper-class English girl who was largely brought up in India. She doesn't fit in anywhere and can't quite understand the rules of any society. She becomes even more interesting in The Sweet Far Thing as the most powerful being in both our world and the realms. She doesn't want to abuse her power but she gets carried away by it on several occasions and uses it to get what she wants.

I think the characterisation of Felicity and Ann is great. I loved seeing them reveal tough truths and plan their  lives. Miss McCleethy, my favourite Spence Academy character, with her sharp tongue and mysterious past, is underused, but I loved all the minor characters, old and new, especially Ann's heroine, Lily Trimble. Even Fowlson, the mean thug from the previous books, gets some backstory, which is refreshing.

The ending is controversial, and I don't want to spoil it. I'll say that I hoped for a different ending when I started reading the book, but that at the end, it seemed appropriate and like it was inevitable. The series as a whole won't be to everyone's taste, but it ticked a lot of my boxes.

I would recommend the Gemma Doyle trilogy to fans of fantasy-tinged historical fiction - but be warned, it is long! I'd actually suggest getting ebooks of the second and third books, because even the paperbacks are massive and difficult to tote around.

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