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Book Reviews

Review: “Rebel Angels,” Libba Bray

April 20, 2014
Review: “Rebel Angels,” Libba BrayRebel Angels (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy #2)
Written by Libba Bray
Published August, 2005 by Simon & Schuster
576 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Witches
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five-stars

Ah, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain...

The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.

Rebel Angels has always held a place in my heart as my favourite of the ‘Gemma Doyle’ trilogy. I was so eager to re-read this book and knew that it wouldn’t disappoint the second (or third!) time around. If you thought A Great & Terrible Beauty couldn’t get any better, prepare to be proven wrong.

Buddy re-reading with Hanna @ Luminous Words

Rebel Angels does a stellar job of expanding on the characters we’re already familiar with as well as introducing some new faces both in and outside of the realms. The most notable additions are Ms McCleethy, Nell Hawkins and the Gorgon, but we also meet Simon Middleton, a new love interest for Gemma.

Pippa, a character we lost in A Great & Terrible Beauty is also back. The ‘new’ Pippa is fantastically disturbing at times – a sense of foreboding settling around all of her appearances. Despite knowing how it will all end for the girls, I can’t help but be pulled under into their stories again. I also love seeing how everything affects me as a reader the second time around.

Gemma Doyle remains a delightful narrator and heroine. Although I could slap her at times (it’s so frustrating when you guess who the villain is before the main character) I find that her choices and actions more often than not would mirror my own.

I also love her relationships with the other girls. Gemma sees Felicity for who she is – good AND bad – and accepts her, flaws and all. She also doesn’t become ‘drunk’ off of Felicity’s attention like her peers. As for her relationship with Ann, she’s not afraid to tiptoe around the big issues such as Ann’s self-harm. I love that Gemma (and Felicity, for that matter) don’t suffer Ann’s notions of self-pity in the name of friendship, either. They aren’t afraid of causing conflict if it means they all reach a better outcome or understanding.

Although I adore Gemma, my favourite character is Felicity. She is such a strange mixture of strength and softness – a character that brilliantly balances on the line between ‘loveable’ and ‘mean’. I really don’t think I’ve found her equal in any other YA reads. I don’t often include quotes in my reviews, but I felt I just had to include this one as it sums up Felicity Worthington so perfectly:

Sometimes Felicity is as much a mystery to me as the location of the Temple. She is spiteful and childish one minute, lively and spirited in the next; a girl kind enough to bring Ann home for Christmas and small enough to think Kartik her inferior.

It’s safe to say that with the initial character introductions and story foundations done and dusted in A Great & Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels really had room to move with its story progression and character development. Gemma’s father also had a larger role in the events of Rebel Angels, which made for some great interaction between Gemma and Kartik.

This series has great balance between story and romance – as I’ve mentioned before. Gemma’s feelings for Kartik grow with this installment, but it is by no means ‘insta-love’. Their relationship is subtle and believable. The same goes for Gemma’s ‘romance’ with Simon Middleton. It adds a great layer to the story but isn’t over-the-top. It’s also safe to say that it was a ‘contained’ romance, beginning and ending in Rebel Angels, unlike other series that keep recycling their love interests.

With most of this book taking place in Victorian London rather than the boarding school of Spence, Rebel Angels is fresh and exciting. The magical world of the realms are also darker, more dangerous and altogether more exciting. Libba Bray’s attention to detail is spectacular, too and I couldn’t help but feel I was experiencing the surroundings myself.

If you’ve read the first novel, you absolutely must continue with Rebel Angels. I’ve enjoyed re-reading this series so much and can’t wait (but am also dreading the heartbreak) to re-read The Sweet Far Thing, the final book in the series.

Recommended to: I can’t recommend this series enough. If you’re a fan of historical fantasy, then you can’t miss it. ‘The Gemma Doyle Trilogy’ should be required reading for anyone invested in the genre.

About Libba Bray

New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray was raised on a diet of Monty Python, loud rock n’ roll, Hammer Horror films and suburban Texas ennui. She started off weird and just got weirder. It’s a miracle she’s not in prison. Libba lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son, and two cats of questionable intelligence.

1 Comment

  • Reply Alicia the Awesome May 19, 2014 at 8:13 am

    I don’t remember much about this book in the series, but I remember having a really hard time guessing who was the bad guy…and I also wanted to slap Gemma a few times. (lately there’s been a lot of slapping that needs to be done to these female main characters)
    Pippa for sure scared me and there was no way I was trusting her. Felicity was totally the most mysterious character in that she was practically bipolar…feeling all nice and generous one minute and cold and heartless the next. That line is so accurate. I really wasn’t quite sure what to make of her the entire time.
    I have to say at this point I preferred Kartik over Simon. Simon was just too typical, you know? We needed someone a little forbidden, and Kartik fit the bill. Their romance was probably one of my favorites. Like, ever.
    I actually think these books are about due for a re-read (: thanks for reminding me
    Alicia the Awesome recently posted…Bookish Survey: The Hunger Games Part 1My Profile

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