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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: REBEL ANGELS by Libba Bray

Young Adult fantasy
Delacorte, 2006
548 pages  $16.95

About a month ago, I read Libba Bray’s debut novel, A Great and Terrible Beauty, which was Book One in this juicy Victorian fantasy trilogy. While Book One captured my imagination, Book Two--Rebel Angels--kicked the story into high gear and deepened the characters lives, both inside and outside their fantasy realm.

Heroine Gemma Doyle is a 16-year-old student at Spence Academy for Young Ladies in Victorian England. While Spence purports to prepare its charges for a life as proper young women of society, Gemma and her friends all hide shameful secrets—poverty, drug-addicted relatives, shattered families. Theirs is a life of propriety, structure, and social class, rules that choke them like the corsets they’re forced to wear. And that’s just in our world.

I love stories that straddle two worlds. Gemma Doyle may be the good schoolgirl by day, but she’s also the only hope for the Order, a secret society whose control of the magical Realms is crumbling. Evil forces are struggling to take power of the Realms and to break through to our world as well. Gemma, whose powers were conferred by her late mother in Book One, must bind the magic to calm the chaos of the Realms before the evil Circe beats her to it. It’s a tangled mystery of whom to trust and how to gather the power that is Gemma’s alone to wield.

The wonderful twists in the story come from the glimpses of Dickensian Christmas scenes, Bethlem Hospital (the madhouse), viscount’s sons and illicit loves. Terrors abound both in the Realms and in London Town—it’s up to the reader to decide which is more horrific. Author Libba Bray weaves the two worlds together with ease and develops Gemma and her friends into young ladies we care deeply about. Luckily, I can move right on to The Sweet Far Thing, the concluding book, as it was released in 2009.

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