wDec 25, 2007

A Great and Terrible Beauty; Rebel Angels

A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels are the first two books in a trilogy by Libba Bray that centers on 16-year-old Gemma Doyle. Gemma has spent the first sixteen years of her life in India with her family, but after her mother is killed, Gemma is sent away to boarding school in England. Once there, she must face the cliques of teenage girls as well as the visions that plague her - ones she can't control.

I have mixed feelings about these books. On the one hand, there are so many things (fantasy! feminism! subverting societal norms! victorian era!) that make me want to love these novels. And yet, I think it's Bray's writing style that makes me feel like someone is holding down the trigger on an automatic weapon, and just....BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM. I feel like I would love these novels a lot more if some of the descriptions were longer. I don't want characters to have an epiphany that only lasts for one sentence. When I read the recap of Book 1 at the beginning of Book 2, I spent most of it going, "Huh....yeah, I guess that did happen, but I just wasn't all that impressed by the magnitude of that plot point when it happened."

Part of why I feel like her writing style doesn't sit well with me is because she tackles so much, all at once. Normally, this is preferred by me - I don't like books that only focus on one or two themes. I think it's just the way that nothing is ever teased out as fully as it could be that makes me uncomfortable. Off the top of my head, the novels deal with self-mutiliation, incestuous rape, classism, racism, the transition from childhood to womanhood, FEMINISM LIEK WHOA, magic, parallel worlds, issues with authority, high school cliques, romantic love, the Chosen One trope, uncountable references to other Victorian novels and poetry, Greek mythology, and secret age-old societies.

In addition, the characters are so often breaking societal norms of the Victorian era that putting the magic/fantasy elements aside, the novels are pretty unrealistic. Side characters never seem to react as completely as they should, and consequences never seem fully appropriate (I'm thinking here of Gemma's excursion to the opium den in Book 2 - not much discussion given to the WTFness of that at all!). Additionally, it seems to me like all of the characters speak as though they were born in the 1980s. I understand that it's hard to find the appropriate voice for characters living more than a century ago, but it was pretty jarring.

I feel like I'm only reading the series for Kartik, although I would like to see Ann grow up as well. Gemma did a lot of maturing in Book 2, and the climax/resolution of that novel was much better than Book 1.

I still want to read the last book, although I'm not quite sure how I'm going to accomplish that. I got the first book off of Bookmooch, and the second one through the library. However, the third book is released tomorrow (or three days ago, at our Barnes & Noble!) and while I don't like the series enough to spend $18 on the hardcover edition of the final volume, the series is so popular that there are already 40+ holds on it at the library. I guess I'll be waiting for a while unless I go to Borders and Barnes & Noble and read while drinking hot chocolate. Actually....that sounds like a really good idea.

Incidentally! Libba Bray does have a LiveJournal, and you can read it here.

Also, Oyceter has review of both novels here.

Writing book reviews makes me realize that I do not write very eloquent book reviews. Maybe I should stick to just manga. Thoughts?

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scribbled mystickeeper at 3:21 PM

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