Saturday, January 23, 2010

Series Review: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy

by Libba Bray

Books in Series:
#1- A Great and Terrible Beauty
#2- Rebel Angels
#3- The Sweet Far Thing

Go to the bottom of the post for a short-sweet-review. I'm saving you the trouble of reading a long long long post! haha, but I would love it if you read the whole thing ;)

Okay, so I know I've been incredibly lazy this month with getting around to writing reviews of any sort, it seems all I've been doing is writing filler posts and memes... I wanted to wait a while to write this review decently, because I have mixed feelings and thoughts floating around so I'll try to get this review right. Warning: huge huge post.

Summary: *includes spoilers!!!* (it's hard to summarize a series without spoilers!!) Taken from goodreads because I tried to summarize it but failed epically. I don't particularly like these summaries but it's the best I can find.

Book One: Gemma, 16, has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order.

Book Two: Set two months after, a new, mysterious teacher has arrived at Spence, three ghostly girls are trying to give Gemma a message, and Kartik tells Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic that she let loose when she broke the runes. But it is also Christmas, and Gemma is spending the holiday in London with her family. Felicity has invited Ann to spend it with her family, enabling them to take trips back to the Realms to look for the Temple.

Book Three *SPOILERS!*: It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father alaudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.The Order - the mysterious group her mother was once part of - is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence's burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.


Alright now my review as promised. I liked this series a lot. Quite a lot actually, but unfortunately I didn't love it. But this is a twisted sort of "I-don't-love-it."

Starting with the things I loved (so many!) is the world-building done by Libba Bray throughout the LONG series. Book #3 is over 800 pages, just a heads up. The gothic feel of the book was uncanny, and in my mind, it completely fit the time period. The descriptions were spot on and the realms were beautifully written. I especially liked how Bray would constantly have a steady description of the realms (no inconsistencies, that's what I meant) with the gorgeous, innocent clearing at the beginning, and steadily into the darker truths of the Winterlands. The creatures in the Realms were all developed reasonably well and I wasn't waiting for more.

Secondly, I loved the plot. It's so amazingly unique and original, with the magic and the realms, the groups in both the 'real world' and the realms fighting for power. Gemma's own struggle with her identity, and with her trust and power. I can't say enough of the plot and how good it was.

Now reading the past two paragraphs, you are probably wondering: "you are gushing so much about this series, why is it only getting an 8.8??"

Well, good question and this is the part where my own opinion overrules the book's actual intentions. It only got an 8.8 because I didn't like the characters. They annoyed me to no end, and it almost ruined the book at times because I wanted to strangle so many different characters. Does the fact that the characters were so well written I wanted to strangle them make the book "good"? Yes. It means the character development was there, and the writing was good. It also meant most of these characters seemed realistic, yet they were goddamn annoying. Rant time.

For example: Gemma. She is at times selfish, stubborn, and stupid. This annoyed me, like whenever she does stuff for herself rather than for the 'good of the people/realms'. Whenever she caves to the peer pressure. Whenever she does something stupid to either prove herself or prove a point. Then again, isn't the selfishness realistic for a 16 year old girl? Does a girl in her position want to be bossed around by 'people who know better' or does she want to do whatever the hell she wants? Gemma chose the latter and at times I was on her side, but at other times I wasn't. It's like a love-hate relationship.

Another example: Felicity. I was seriously waiting for her to turn into the next Circe. I'm not kidding, she tells us all her deepest desire is to be powerful; isn't this evil-person alert? And Gemma always trusts Felicity even when her reasoning is susceptible, so this annoyed me. Felicity, in her path to find power and glory, has the insecure side to her too, another good example of character development. I won't spoil it but basically you can't help but sympathize with her at times, and hate her at other times. I questioned her loyalties throughout the entire series, to be honest. I guessed her secret with Pippa pretty early into the third book, and liked how Libba Bray included it.

Another example: Ann. OMFG. She is the scholarship kid who is picked on, has no backbone for over 1000 pages, woe-is-me attitude, and a feeble personality. Her greatest desire is to beautiful. The lackage of spinal cords in her body is what really made her annoying, she never ever ever ever stood up for herself until sometime in the end of the last book, and never stood up for her friends, or to her friends either. She's content with being pushed around and pities herself in private. She is okay when only in the company of her friends, but whenever she is, say, in a class, at the school, around other people, she becomes a weak person who is scared of everything. She can sing though, and her ending is kinda predictable. And I guess she gets a bit better throughout the novel but it takes a hell of a long time.

Rant done.

I thought I might comment on the "twist" ending for the series. Some people cried, some people were outraged, some people hated it. I thought it was good, personally. I appreciated Libba Bray in that she didn't pull a "Breaking-Dawn-perfect-ending" and that she was willing to kill off beloved characters. I was saddened by the ending and wasn't really sure if it fit, but thought it was a good twist nevertheless. I thought the brief glimpse of the girls' futures were nicely done.

To close off the long review, I thought of another aspect I loved. The mystery. It was built up nicely, wrapped up nicely, but kept you hooked throughout the entire series. The sub-plots were interesting and engaging as well, along with the minor characters. There is so much more I can say about this (it feels like I'm making one of those thank-you speeches and I'm running out of time but I still have so much to say!)

The reason the series gets and 8.8 is because despite all the wonderful writing/plot/world/mystery, the characters just ughhh. I spent a LONG time annoyed throughout the book and since it's a long book, that isn't a good sign. The annoying-ness of the charaters justified the rating for me, becuase if I'm annoyed, I'm not enjoying the book, and the rating is based on how much I enjoyed the book. Capiche?

Series Rating 8.8/10

Individual book ratings:

Book 1 A Great and Terrible Beauty: 8.7/10
Book 2 Rebel Angels: 8.8/10
Book 3 The Sweet Far Thing: 8.8/10

Overall thoughts in less that 10 sentences: The series is highly recomended for those who enjoy historical fiction, it has a wonderful blend of mystery, magic, romance, and drama, and it is well written as well. Characters are realistic, both the major and minor ones albeit they may get on your nerves. The plot is ambitious but pulled of very nicely, and the conflicts between the good people and bad people actually had depth. The setting is described marvelously (omg, I hate that word!) and the ending was fulfilling. An overall great series I recommend to all!!!


PS- tell me if you actually read the majority of the post ;) and tell me if you didn't! haha
PPS- I LOVE the covers for all three books. The girl in the corset is fitting for the novel, the time period, and the character!
PPPS- whoa, lots of tags!


  1. Great review(s). I read the first two reviews but not the last because I haven't read the 3rd one yet. Since you loved the whole series, I guess I'm in for a treat!

  2. Thank you! The review is way too long though :p
    The third book is really good, it would have been my favourite if I eliminated the annoying-ness of the characters and just based my thoughts on plot and writing :) I would definitely recommend you reading it if you liked the first two!

  3. I completely agree with you. I absolutely loved this trilogy, it had my attention constantly. And the character annoyingness I'm glad I wasn't the only person to feel that way. The ending twist did disappoint me a tad but I'm a hopeless romantic, but I did like that bray didn't go with the normal fairytale ending those get old.

  4. I'm secretly glad you agree, I always think I'm the only person who feels this way and am just complaining :P
    Haha, I do wish the ending didn't happen the way it did, but I'm okay with it. thanks for commenting :)

  5. great review! Clicked follow and look forward to seeing what you review next!

  6. Thank you! I have followed you back :)

  7. I read the whole review, which is saying a lot, by the way, because I've read, like, six reviews of yours in the past twenty minutes and still have at least five open. :D

    I read the first book, but I didn't like it very much. I felt uncomfortable at times and Gemma got on my nerves. However, it was years ago that I tried it, so perhaps I'll pick it up again!

  8. Madeleine- I am IMPRESSED! I just went back and skimmed this review, i think I was *delirious* or something, rambling on and on and on :P haha, thank you so much for the comment :)

  9. I know this is such a late comment. (I have to pick a review for a class and write a paper about it. And I've chosen yours!) I was looking specifically for a review about this book and yours has been the best one I could find in a short amount of time. It's definitely not too long (especially if I have to write 4-5 pages about it). If you're still active, I'd love to hear some more feedback about the book, although it has been a while since you've posted this. I read the series a while ago, too. It has probably been about six-ish years. I can't even remember everything that happened in the books. I wish I could read them over again (I love rereading books) but no time! Anyways, I just want to say that I enjoyed your review and I'm glad that even though the characters annoyed you, you could realize that the characterization was based on their age and was true to it.


for those who are confused, it means "Don't forget to be AWESOME". *hugs*