written by Libba Bray
A Great and Terrible Beauty
I had read the first two novels in Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy in the past, although I had done so with many years between the two reads, when the books had first been released. This is an intricately woven series and as such, unless the reader possesses a stellar memory (which I do not), should probably be read closer together, with many rereads, for best results. This time around, I read all three novels in a row in the course of about a week, and was not disappointed with the results. I am not a reader who enjoys pieces set in the Victorian Era. It seems too far removed from today, and I find it difficult to care. But Libba Bray manages to craft a world that is both removed from ours today, but still filled with the same basic humanity. These are characters carefully crafted to be known and loved. I don't know how Libba Bray plotted the entire detailed story out, but she must have taken the time and effort to do so, building a full world unlike our own that comes to life. She introduces the new reader to this world alongside Gemma's introduction to the same world, easing us all into a surprisingly full universe. The worldbuilding suggests a great translation to film, if that is ever pursued. Minor complaint of unnecessary flowery descriptions every once in a while, but beyond that, a relatively manageable balance of story elements.
In most trilogies, the second book seems to serve as an expository bridge between the introduction to the world and the massive conclusion. And while there might be a grain of truth to this with Rebel Angels, the book does a good job of standing up for itself, which is a testament to Bray's storytelling abilities. Parts of this book subtly set up for events to happen in the third installment, but much of it is able to stand on its own feet (although I wouldn't recommend reading the second book before reading the first). One thing that really struck me in the reading of Rebel Angels is how easily this series could have been a female-centric Harry Potter...but how that was subverted. Certainly, parallels can be drawn, as they can be with most great works of fiction, but the books, again, stand on their own. And on the topic of things that were subverted, Libba Bray is a goddess for many things, but her subversion of the drawn out love triangle is one notable aspect of the story. It's there, but it's a background element and obviously so. It's rare that I enjoy the second book in a trilogy, but then, Libba Bray is certainly a one-of-a-kind writer.
The Sweet Far Thing
This book, being the conclusion of the trilogy, was arguably the most dramatic of the three. Each book had its emotional ups and downs, but there's an added element of urgency and confusion mixed in throughout the third, making it a highly emotional read from start to finish. I'd just finished the book and haven't had the chance to look through interviews or other statements from the author, but I'm very curious to learn how much of the story was planned out in advance, and how much, if any, was made up as she wrote. For such an intricate story, I would assume it had to be mostly the former. Bray was able to balance all of the elements she had set up well, with no one plot point dominating the story, but various themes interwoven throughout, equally sharing the space that had been set up for them to coexist, all coming together in an epic finale.