My recent review of The Night Circus reminded me of another magical Victorian book series, The Gemma Doyle Trilogy. It has a similar dream-like quality, and I enjoyed it for similar reasons. However, it turns out, I never reviewed it here! I don’t know why. So, today, I am reviewing the trilogy, which consists of A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing.
Book: Gemma Doyle Trilogy
Author: Libba Bray
Year Published: 2003
Genre: Victorian fantasy
Morality Rating: PG-13
Readablity Rating: 4 stars
Four girls uncover the secrets of their school and learn that there is much more to the world than meets the eye. A trip to the spirit world uncovers an epic battle that has raged for centuries between good and evil. The girls must learn to control their powers or be lost to the evil forever.
There were parts of this series that I liked and parts that I really didn’t like. Elements I liked: writing style, immersive universe, the overall concept. Parts I didn’t like: the bizarre sexual undertones, the characters, the vivid descriptions of gross things.
Plot: The plot of this story was sound. The plot had a long history with enough back story and plot development to make it interesting. I liked her magical universe. It seemed realistic, if it is possible for magic to be real. I enjoyed the realistic(ish) descriptions of the time period and the Victoria obsession with the Indian culture. Aside from an ending that was unsatisfying to me (but still well done), I thought the plot was strong.
Characters: I kind of hated all the characters in this story. They all rubbed me the wrong way. I think it was the characters that kept me from loving the series. Gemma was childish and rebellious, and the other girls were way too easily led astray during the story. The male characters were kind of overbearing and annoying, and the adult women were irritating. In fact, if I had to live in that universe, I would probably go join a gypsy gang or something.
Setting: I was pleased with the setting of this story. The setting was Victorian England, with heavy influences from Indian culture and beliefs. I appreciated that, because many Victorians really were obsessed with Indian beliefs and religious practices. I thought Ms. Bray did a good job of placing the girls into situations that they might actually have in the period. Nothing annoys me more than historical stories were the females wear pants, everyone calls each other by their first names, and women are allowed to travel unchaperoned everywhere. Of course, there were some liberties taken, but at least they were plausible.
Writing Style: I thought the writing style of this series was well done. I think Ms. Bray did a good job of capturing the feel of a magical universe and the Victorian period. Although I didn’t really like much of what I read (mostly because it was dark and depressing), she is an excellent writer.
I’m finding that many of the books that I love for their writing quality I’m not quite on board with the plots. I wonder why that is?
Is it impossible to have a strong plot and good writing? What do you think?