Fromt the Archives: Books 21, 22, and 23: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy By Libba Bray

Books 21, 22, and 23: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy By Libba Bray
Don't read this series if you know anything about Victorian culture- or if you tend to pick books apart, as I do.
The Gemma Doyle series is a young adult historical fiction/fantasy trilogy by author Libba Bray. The trilogy consists of the three titles "A Great and Terrible Beauty", "Rebel Angels", and "The Sweet Far Thing". I read this series having never heard a bad review of it. Well there's always a first. I'm not saying the series was the worst I've ever read, I did finish it after all, but it wasn't great or even good, just average.
There are reasons behind this opinion, of course. But first I will give you a short summary of what these books are about.

Gemma Doyle, the protagonist, has inherited the power of a secret society of women, named The Order, who carry the ability to transcend realms. She is the last remaining person with this power, as her mother is killed early on the books. Upon her mother's death, Gemma is sent to the boarding school her mother attended. There Gemma meets her three friends, who become the other main characters, Pippa, Ann, and Felicity. They enter the realms together throughout the series- Pippa eats in the realms in the first book and so is trapped there forever (much like in Fae worlds). Ann is infatuated with theatre and trying to break free of becoming her cousin's governess- whose family is paying for her to attend school. Felicity is trying to become her own women free of attachment to her father's family- and secured of her own inheritance. Of course they are also working to fight a dark evil in the realms- and there are romantic intrigues.

My first and largest problem with the trilogy was the inaccuracy of depicting the Victorian era. The first, is probably the most glaringly obvious. In Victorian England there was a certain class of girls who were sent away to school. As Bray would depict it, these girls were the girls with money. However, in most cases this was definitely not the case. Girls and young ladies of family and money were never sent away to school- except in very specific circumstances- they were kept at home with family and provided with a governess for their education. Bray, however, has a group of four girls as her main characters- only one of which would actually have been at boarding school, Ann (much like "Jane Eyre"). The second inaccuracy is the abundance of books. These girls somehow had their own books, many of them, in a time when that was very unlikely. Books were obtained or owned in a number of ways- but not by individuals in general. Most people read novels through penny-papers where they were published serially- this was the most popular method for authors to have works published (Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, etc.) Towns sometimes owned libraries, most often provided by a wealthy family. Families owned libraries if they were rich enough. There were also traveling libraries to check out books from- usually that neighborhoods would share until the library returned. There weren't an abundance of book stores, as most bought directly from the publishers. There certainly weren't antique book stores or specialized books stores as Bray depicts. A third mistake is that most debutantes of the time were presented starting age 15-18, not beginning at 18. If you weren't married by 25 you would be an old maid. Dicken's is featured prominently throughout the book- even though it was the middle-class who appreciated him the most, since most of his books targeted the upper-class as being a-moral. I'm sure there are many more mistakes- I simply can't remember them all.

My Second problem with the series is the editing- which can't be entirely blamed on Bray- but I felt there was much of the story that I just didn't care to read and ended up having no value to the plot. Chapters upon chapters of their everyday boarding school life and them frolicking in the realms- not focusing on anything that matters, surprisingly enough, was unimportant to me as a reader and the plot line.These chapters should have simply been cut out of the books altogether.

Third, In her attempt to capture the Victorian era, Bray name drops every Victorian author, playwright, or famous place she can think of- even though they have no reason to be referenced in the story. It was a badly performed strategy by an author who was desperate to create a time period she couldn't.

Fourth, I found her characters shallow and exceedingly dumb. They know their tasks, that danger is imminent and yet all they can do is manage to play in the realms, literally. It takes forever for them to actually DO anything, which goes back to what they should have edited out.

Fifth and last, was the ending. The ending was so preachy and trite that it felt like I was suddenly reading a Hallmark card. It seemed that Bray realized she had failed to impart all the lessons she wanted her young readers to have throughout the rest of the story-line so she squeezed as much as possible into the never-ending end.
Really, my main problem was that these books could be SO much better, with some research, editing, and new writing strategy they could have been good. The overall idea was unique and intriguing; just not executed well. As it stands I feel bad that I recommended them often at Borders having never read the whole series.