Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review: The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

Title: The Sweet Far Thing
Author: Libba Bray
Published: Delacorte Press, 2007
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Synopsis: It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father alaudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.

The Order—the mysterious group her mother was once part of—is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence's burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

It’s been two days since I’ve finished The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and I’m still processing my feelings. One thing I know for sure is that I have a pretty serious book hangover.  You know that feeling when you finish a book and you're like... WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED. Is this it? Is it over, it can't be over...

That's how I felt when I turned the last page of The Sweet Far Thing. Complete shock and confusion, but in the best possible way.

Just like my review of Rebel Angels, this one may contain spoilers so if you have not yet read this series, what are you waiting for? It’s fabulous. It’s a dark fantasy meets a coming-of-age story meets a supernatural thriller, meets historical fiction. This final book in the series felt in a word, Epic. I felt like I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was a no holds barred fight to save the world from evil.

When we catch up with Gemma she and Felicity are preparing for their debuts and Ann is dreaming about how she can become an actress rather than a governess. At the end of the last book Gemma imprisoned Circe in the temple and decided to bind the magic of the realms to herself rather than turn it over to someone(s) who would only use it for their own personal gain, but she promised a share of the magic with the creatures of the realms who helped her along the way. However Gemma is unable to make the door of light appear and return to the realms. The slow start of this book was a huge step backwards after all the excitement of Rebel Angels. I was impatiently waiting for the action to pick up.

But things don’t stay that way for long. They are rebuilding the East Wing at Spence that was once burned down and Gemma quickly learns that there is a secret door in the turret that will allow her and the others to travel into the realms. When she makes it back there the creatures want her to live up to her bargain and share the magic with them but Gemma’s not really ready to share. It causes some strife between not only her and the tribes of the realms but also among her friends. She doesn’t want to take them into the realms and she only wants to share the magic when it’s convenient for her. In fact she is being kind of reckless with the magic. There is an overarching theme throughout the series about power and who you should share it with. This book in particular felt very much like a criticism of government and society. The tribes are fighting amongst themselves, and those who most need the power don't seem to think they deserve it, ironically this makes them the ones who deserve it the most. But in every debate over power there is the idea that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Gemma is kind of an absolute ruler, she is the one who controls the magic, and we see her get a little corrupted by the power. 

But it's not just Gemma that gets corrupted by power. All of the characters are complex and slightly menacing. Gemma doesn't know who to trust because to be completely honest no one is trustworthy. She gets burned more than once trusting the wrong people.  These are some of the best written characters I have ever experienced. They are all so interesting, mysterious, and full of surprises. In my review of Rebel Angels I said that every time you thought you had them figured out they would do something to surprise you, and that is absolutely the case in this book. Probably my two favorites in this book were Pippa who gets corrupted by the magic and Miss Moore who goes full circle by the end. And then there is Gemma. She is a reluctant hero who is being kind of petulant when it comes to completing the tasks she alone can complete. She is also back to being snarky in this book as she and Felicity try to become who they want to be and not who is expected of them. The feminist overtones in the first two books become pretty overt in this one as the characters not only prepare to become ladies, but try to decide their futures, and the future of the magic.

"We're like pretty horses, and just as horses, they mean to put blinders on I'd so we can't look left or right but only straight ahead where they lead" 
p. 601 The Sweet Far Thing

The debate over whether it is our destiny or our choices that decides our path in life is one of the biggest themes throughout the series. Gemma and the others spends much of their time speculating that they can decide the way everything will shake out, that it is not predetermined. And when it comes to those choices, Gemma has made some real doozies. She has incredibly poor judgment and is forced to live with the consequences of these terrible actions. She also still doesn’t trust anyone, but then who can blame her. Every one of them is morally ambiguous and a little malicious, but then that’s what I love about them. And while the relationships are what got her through the first two books, in this book Gemma must find the power to do what she needs to do on her own. In Rebel Angels I didn’t want her to do it alone but in this book I was ready for it. I was ready for her to strike out on her own and be her own person. I was ready for her to take responsibility of her actions and to choose to fulfill her destiny (you see what I did there?), I was ready for her to become the hero I knew she could be. It is only then that she can make everything right. 

Just like the last book, The Sweet Far Thing is an incredible mystery. I spent most of the beginning of the book with my mind racing wondering what this clue or that clue would lead to. When the final mystery was revealed I wasn’t entirely shocked because I suspected it all along but the clues weren’t as obvious as the previous book. But perhaps I wasn’t all that shocked about the major reveal because the book had about five smaller shocking twists. Some of them caught me completely off guard while others made me say to myself “took you long enough.” The shocking twists and intriguing mysteries are one of the best parts of this series. This final book in the series was not just full of mystery it was also full of action. It was much more epic than previous two books. It was full of battle scenes including a final fight to save the world from evil that felt very much like a classic dark fantasy stories.

As great as it was there were some pacing issues in The Sweet Far Thing. It took awhile for the action to pick up and when it did there would be a big shocking twist and then nothing exciting for awhile. Some scenes dragged on and on while others were over in the blink of an eye. There was so much build up and when everything was concluded I was left completely dumb-founded. The last forty pages were completely pointless and while they concluded the story I was completely numb to them. If I’m being completely honest I think that the book was too long. I normally love a long final book in a series but in this case I think that everything could have been conveyed in 600 pages instead of 800. 

In general however it was a great ending to a great series. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who likes coming-of age stories, dark fantasy, historical fiction, and/or supernatural thrillers. It left me wondering what took me so long in finding this series but at least I did. It was fabulous! I give it 8 out of 10 stars.  

I can't really put into words exactly how I feel about this series. There are so many facets to it that I wish I could communicate but that would make this review longer than it already is. But if you have read this series I would love to hear your thoughts. What was your favorite thing about it? Who was your favorite character? What did you think about the ending? Leave me a comment. I need someone to talk to about it!

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read this series yet, but I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it until the end. :)