Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

Title: Rebel Angels
Author: Libba Bray
Series: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2006

Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. 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

This is second book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, which if you haven’t read A Great and Terrible Beauty you should but only so you can read this book (and also this review because it contains Book 1 spoilers). It was light years better than the first book. That one's good, this one's great! Maybe it was because I knew what I was getting into, or maybe it was that all the kinks were worked out, but this one was so much more enjoyable. I went into A Great and Terrible Beauty expecting a Gothic horror novel but that’s not what it was at all. The series really can’t be pigeonholed into one specific genre it’s Historical Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Thriller, and a Coming-of-Age story all rolled into one. The elements of the story could have been placed in the modern era but the fact that they were in Victorian London gave it a different tone all together.

Gemma and her friends are back and still reeling from the conclusion of the first book. Gemma in particular is torn about her supposed destiny and her personal ties to The Realms. She’s learning that her choices have drastic consequences and it’s leading to some pretty serious inner turmoil. The continued exploration of the dark magical world that they discovered in the first book and Gemma’s path of binding the magic is held in contrast with the world of London at Christmastime. Gemma and her friends, Felicity and Ann, are attending balls, being courted by strapping young gentlemen, trying to become ladies of high society, and dealing with their fair share of family drama. Gemma is literally living in two different worlds and trying to find her place in both of them.  

The book also delves deeper into the idea of power and control that was just a minor theme in the first book. It is Gemma, and Gemma alone, who is able to enter The Realms but once they are there the magic can be shared with the others, especially after Gemma released it in the first book. The fact that the others are reliant on Gemma creates some moments of jealousy and resentment, especially among Felicity who is used to being the one in control. The jealously of Gemma and her power is also shared by the creatures and residents in The Realms who have been stifled by The Order and not able to use the magic in their own land. As Gemma seeks help on her quest many of them ask for their share of the power that they have been denied. There is also the struggle between the Rakshana who were denied power from The Order, former members of The Order who want their power and control over The Realms to be restored, and of course Circe who wants the power for herself. Gemma has to decide what to do with the magic now that she has released it. Should she let it be free or should she turn it over to someone? If she turns it over, who should she turn it over too? These decisions are made more complicated by the fact that Gemma really feels like she can’t trust anyone.

One of my favorite parts of this series is the characters that Libba Bray has created. They are all complex and flawed, and every single one of them was full of surprises. Just when you thought you had figured them out they did something to shock you. Gemma has become much less snarky, which I dislike, and throughout most of the book she has incredibly bad judgment. It was a bit frustrating but it’s these character flaws that make her a compelling anti-hero. I still love Felicity, who is a giant ball of contradiction. One minute she’s a nasty spoiled brat and the next she’s doing something selfless. You meet her family and learn a little bit more about her past in this book. You start to realize why she is the way she is and empathize with her a lot more (as if I needed another reason to like Felicity). We also get to spend more time with some older characters like Miss Moore, the girls’ former teacher, Gemma’s family including her father and her brother Tom, and of course Kartik. Each of them continues the trend of being flawed but likable because of the fact that they are so complicated. We also meet some interesting and mysterious new characters like Miss McCleethy a new teacher at Spence, Simon Middleton who is Gemma’s dashing suitor, and Nell Hawkins a mental patient that seems to know about The Realms. And in The Realms there are a host of new characters who are just as complex. Pippa is still in The Realms and she hasn’t crossed over and is being corrupted by the magic (I actually like this darker Pippa, she seemed very one-note before). And Circe is still lurking on the periphery threatening to take control of the magic and worrying Gemma.

At first I was a bit unimpressed by the romance of the story, finding it distracting, but it served to address the deeper theme of the power of human relationships and who you should surround yourself with on your path of life. Gemma doesn’t know who she should put her faith and trust in throughout the novel. She is entrusted with this task but she doesn’t want to and can’t really do it alone. No one is purely good and no one is purely evil (even the villain Circe makes you wonder sometimes), and this fact leaves Gemma wondering who to put her faith in to help her complete her task. You are told often throughout the story to trust no one, and I felt like things were leading down a path where Gemma would choose just that. She would find the strength in herself to accomplish her goals alone but it hasn’t yet lead to that, and I’m glad of that.  The soul of this book is the story of the friendships and relationships that continue to develop and deepen as the series goes on.

“And for a moment I understand that I have friends on this lonely path, that sometimes your place is not something you find, but something you have when you need it” p. 547

Do you get it?
But the best part of this book for me was the mystery. I spent much of the first half with my mind racing trying to figure out what was going to happen and what this clue or that clue meant. I didn’t fall for the red herring (good try Libba Bray) but I was actually glad that I didn’t. There were good enough clues throughout the book that led me to solve the big conclusion at the end and I was proud of myself when I did. The fact that I knew something the characters didn't made me nervous of Gemma’s actions for the rest of the book and for the first time I actually enjoyed the dramatic irony. Gone was the lack of action that A Great and Terrible Beauty was plagued with, this one is much more thrilling and suspenseful. It kept building and building and just when I thought that there was nowhere new that the action could go, something else crazy happened. It wasn’t until the last twenty pages that the expected conflict between Gemma and the antagonist occurred. The ending left me with this unsettled feeling where things didn’t at all feel resolved but in the best possible way. It left me hungry for more, it left me hungry for the final book in the series The Sweet Far Thing.

I give Rebel Angels by Libba Bray a 9 out of 10

I recommend this book to anyone who likes Coming-of-Age stories, Supernatural Thrillers, and/or Dark Fantasy. It was a great second book in what is shaping up to being an amazing series. If you’ve read this book let me know your thoughts in the comments and HAPPY READING!


  1. I just read the end of your review, because I have read the first book, but this sounds like a great series. I love dark fantasy and supernatural thrillers. :)

    1. I'm still working on finishing the series so we'll see how it finishes it, but it's really good so far. The first book is a little more Coming-of-Age and a little less Supernatural Thriller so if you do read it don't give up after the first book.

  2. Sounds like it would be right up my alley! Thanks for your review!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction