Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

Historical England, boarding school, magic and realms, strange creatures, evil forces, and a group of teenage girls: these make up the Gemma Doyle trilogy. The Sweet Far Thing picks up where Rebel Angels left off.

Gemma and friends are back at Spence Academy and under the watchful eyes of their headmistress, Mrs. Nightwing, they learn decent manners, curtsies, and everything else ladylike. Gemma is unable to fit in with the mindless chatter and gossip of the other girls at her school. She feels that there’s more to life than just attending parties and dancing with men.

Now Gemma holds all the magic of the magical realms where she and her friends, Felicity and Ann have been going. She’s expected to share the magic with all the tribes in the realms but not so soon. Since Felicity desperately needs a Lady Markham to sponsor her debut in order to claim her inheritance, she needs some of Gemma’s magic to make it happen. As for Ann, well, she needs some magic to escape from being a miserable governess.

What about the beautiful Pippa who’s stuck to wander in the realms forever? Felicity is always delighted to spend time and play with her best friend. However, Gemma feels that there’s something suspicious about Pippa and that she must be careful around her.

In the meantime, Gemma keeps having dreams/visions of a lady in a lavender dress. The lady seems to be trying to tell her something but no sound comes out from her. Who is she? Is she dead or alive? What is she trying to say? What is the Key and what in the world is the Tree of All Souls? Absolutely mysterious and frustrating!

Gemma also needs to find out why the school is restoring the ruined East Wing now. Many years ago, two girls supposedly perished in a fire that destroyed the East Wing but they survived anyway. One of the girls was Gemma’s mother. The other girl, Circe, became an enemy and murderer. It is also said that the then headmistress, Eugenia Spence, sacrificed herself to the Winterlands. The Winterlands is an evil place, by the way.

Oh no, I did not forget the handsome and elusive Kartik. He returns to stay with the gypsies and occasionally has little secretive chats with Gemma. He keeps telling her that he’ll leave someday which only irritates and saddens her. His old brotherhood, the Rakshana, is also on the lookout for him as he failed to kill Gemma in the previous book.

That’s quite a lot to digest, isn’t it? Well, you can expect much more than that from this 819-page book. There are five acts and there is a quote at the beginning of each act. In truth, I enjoyed reading every page of this book even though it took me more than a month to finish it.

Some things I just didn’t like though. I thought Gemma’s friends selfish, especially Felicity. Most of the time, I felt that Felicity’s only using Gemma to enter the realms so she could be with Pippa. I’m also quite surprised at Ann who eventually leaves Gemma alone in her troubles too. Like Gemma, I thought that perhaps her friends are only her ‘friends’ because she has magic which can reduce or wipe out the unpleasantness in their lives. Well, nobody’s perfect.

Besides her school chums, Gemma has to deal with Kartik, Pippa, Miss McCleethy who’s watching her every move, Fowlson who’s working for the Rakshana, her father who’s addicted to laudanum, and her obnoxious brother, Tom. She definitely has a lot on her plate.

I’m quite sad to see the end of the Gemma Doyle trilogy. It’s been a thrilling journey following Gemma, her friends and their battle against being helpless women in a rigid English society that expects little and yet so much from them.

Cross-posted here.

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