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Gemma Doyle Trilogy

2 Ratings: 1.0
Libba Bray's trilogy: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing

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Tags: Young Adult Fiction, Book Series, Libba Bray, A Great And Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: young adult
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
1 review about Gemma Doyle Trilogy

A Great and Terrible Series

  • Jun 11, 2009
  • by

Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy have several things going for them just by looking at her books: Intriguing titles, pretty covers (because despite the saying, you do judge a book by its cover, and these are beautiful), and a length that would seem to promise more than a few measly hours curled up with a good book (the third book clocks in at a whopping 800+ pages in paperback). And when you start to read the first book, you are not let down, at least initially.

I've heard the books described as "Harry Potter for girls," and indeed there are a few similarities: a boarding school, a group of friends, magic and mayhem. But the similarities mainly stop there. Gemma Doyle, after witnessing her mother murdered in India, is sent back to England to a boarding school where she will learn everything a proper Victorian lady should know. There she discovers she can enter another world, the Realms, with the help of her new friends, and that her mother's murder may be tied to a mysterious organization called the Order, a group of women who can use the magic of the Realms.

It's fun, unique, and gives the reader a good look at the stolid Victorian era, in everything from its clothing to the forced politeness of society. You can't help but root for Gemma, trapped between those rules and her own spirit.

The characters are well-rounded and no one could accuse them of being Mary-Sues, or super-powerful, flawless beauties. But therein lies the most aggravating problem of the series: the characters. They're far from perfect, but at times you just want to jump in and smack some sense into them all. Worse, this increases over the course of the series.

Beautiful Pippa and her impetuousness, brash Felicity and her will of steel, scholarship student Ann and her lack of a spine, and Gemma, who cannot seem to speak up for herself around her friends will at times make you wonder if they have any redeeming features at all. Even as early as the first book they have problems with trust, but by the third they still haven't learned. Over and over, Felicity and Ann take sides against Gemma, even when previous experience should tell them otherwise. And Gemma herself refuses to speak up and give them reasons for anything.

The effect is that so many of the things in the books--important happenings, crucial plot points--arrive only because these young women are acting like pouting children. It's enough to make you wish you could reach into the book and throttle them all: nearly every bad thing that happens could have been avoided, or at least reduced, if the characters had the brains to just sit down and actually talk to the others.

The third book is the worst; I am convinced that the title "The Sweet Far Thing" refers to the end of the book, when you are entirely sick of Gemma Doyle and her companion's pigheadedness. The last hundred pages do a lovely job wrapping things up and there are no loose threads to leave you wondering about a character, but you have to suffer through the previous 700 pages first, wherein Gemma still refuses to talk to anybody, Pippa gets even more annoying, and Felicity and Ann once again prove they are incapable of seeing Gemma as anything but a ferry to the Realms, and lack the brains to think of anything else unless it benefits them.

The reason that this still received a positive rating is that the story itself is well-written and interesting; Libba Bray created a world that I'm unfamiliar with but could still envision. At time the story seemed like it could have no good or satisfying ending, but she managed to write one anyway. The thing that drags this down is that a story is told through its characters, and these characters are, quite frankly, insufferable.

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