Monday, 18 July 2011

Review: Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

First published in Great Britain in: 2006
By: Simon & Schuster UK

In this thrilling sequel, Gemma continues to pursue her destiny to bind the magic of the Realms and restore it to the Order. Gemma and her friends from Spence use magical power to transport themselves on visits from their corseted world of Victorian London (at the height of the Christmas season), to the visionary country of the Realms, with its strange beauty and menace. There they search for the lost Temple, the key to Gemma's mission, and comfort Pippa, their friend who has been left behind in the Realms. After these visits they bring back magical power for a short time to use in their own world. 

Meanwhile, Gemma is torn between her attraction to the exotic Kartik, the messenger from the opposing forces of the Rakshana, and the handsome but clueless Simon, a young man of good family who is courting her. 

This is the second book in Libba Bray's engrossing trilogy, set in a time of strict morality and barely repressed sensuality, about a girl who saw another way.

My review:

I didn't love the first Gemma Doyle book when I read it a year ago. Part of the problem was that it was the book I read after The Hunger Games and honestly, what wouldn't suffer in comparison? But the main issue was my dislike of most of the characters: I can see that, for Gemma's friends, Libba Bray meant to create realistic girls who are flawed, but the particular personality flaws (Felicity is a snob, Pippa is an airhead and Ann is bitter and self-pitying) happen to be ones I can't abide, so even though these girls were doing cool things, I didn't enjoy spending time with them.

Thankfully, in Rebel Angels, the characters were developed and given layers enough that I was able to warm to them and appreciate their friendship. What happened to Pippa in A Great and Terrible Beauty was the plot thread I was most interested in, so I was glad to see Rebel Angels pick it up, as the girls meet Pippa again when they return to the Realms. It's touching to see how much Pippa and Felicity mean to each other and is one of the things that serve to make Felicity more sympathetic. In fact, Felicity is the character who emerges as the most compelling, after a revelation about her family puts everything about her into a different light.

The main storyline is that Gemma must bind the magic of the Realms after it was set wild and unrestricted by her actions in the last book. But honestly, the plot is not what this book - this series - is worth reading for. What you read for is the opportunity to dive into this world of magic in 19th century England and the themes, of sisterhood and empowerment and young women trying to find autonomy and self-expression in a time period that was incredibly restrictive for them. All these things came together in this book and worked seamlessly with the narrative. Or maybe I was just more receptive this time? Anyway, I really enjoyed how multi-layered the text was and all the different themes it explored.

Because this series is a couple of years old and because of how the internet works, I already know there is some reader dissatisfaction with how the Gemma Doyle trilogy is wrapped up in The Sweet Far Thing. But at this moment, after Rebel Angels, I am happy to declare myself of fan of the series and am looking forward to reading the final tome.

Rating: 4 stars

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