My colleague Kathy wrote an awesome review of the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. Read on and enjoy! And thanks for sharing, Kathy!
“In A Great and Terrible Beauty, the story begins in 1895, when 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence Academy, a proper and somewhat ominous boarding school in England, after the murder of her mother. Lonely, guilt-ridden about her mother’s murder, and discovering that she possesses the gift to see visions of the future, Gemma is practically shunned by staff or students. To complicate matters, she’s being followed by a mysterious young Indian man, who watches her every move, tells her not to enter the spiritual world of the Realms, and who makes her heart race and question what’s real. Gemma tries to find answers to what her destiny is and whether her relationship with three powerful students will lead her into a spiritual world that will fulfill all of her wishes or end her life as she now knows it.
In Rebel Angels, the second book in the trilogy, the end of the school year approaches, and Gemma’s looking forward to forgetting about Spence Academy and the Realms when she travels to London to participate in the time-honored, traditional coming-out season. Balls, fancy gowns and dancing with the handsome, mysterious Simon Middleton excite her, but the lure of the enchanted world of the Realms is strong, and the magic conjured up by Gemma becomes stronger and easier to perform. Her visions of three girls dressed in white, who suffer horrible existences, intensify, and Gemma wonders what message they’re trying to tell her. In a time of strict morality and barely repressed sensuality, this dramatic gothic sequel reveals Gemma’s two sides, her proper behavior outside the Realms and her growing rebel behavior that leads to spending dangerous time inside the spiritual world.
In The Sweet Far Thing, the third book in the trilogy, Gemma’s memories about her mother’s murder and her father laudanum addiction as a coping mechanism after his wife’s murder, haunt her. As she approaches her London debut, she tests her friends’ loyalty by taking them with her to the Realms to search for The Order, the mysterious group her mother was once part of, which Gemma now understands that she must retain control of the magic for the survival of the world and therefore defeat the Rakshana, another group determined to keep the alternate world a dark place by ultimately taking the magic from the Realms to the outside world and subjecting all living things to darkness and angst. Gemma must decide whether or not to follow her friends’ advice and stay forever in The Realms, where she becomes more and more powerful, or fight on her own to thwart the Rakshana’s goal of ruling through dark magic. Set against the backdrop of Victorian London, in a time of strict morality and barely repressed sensuality, this gothic sequel reveals that inside great beauty can lie a rebel angel and a destiny that saves the world and forever shuts out the darkness.
Interstingly, I found similarities in the theme of this trilogy with the Lord of the Ring trilogy, where the antagonist, Dark Lord Sauron, wants to have the One ring in his possession as the ultimate weapon in his quest to conquer and rule all of Middle Earth. Instead of Victorian English students, Hobbits from the Shire, wizards, dwarfs and Elven characters search for the ring at Mordor and face triumphs and tragedies with the Gollum that parallel those of Gemma Doyle. Is this a coincidence, or did the author unknowingly think great thoughts like Tolkien?”