When I read A Great and Terrible Beauty about a year ago, I had to force my way through the characters’ catty moments, but in the end I was impressed with the artistic elements and fearsomeness of the work. I expected–hoped–that the sequels would prove cutting-edge at the end and impress me as well.
I’ll go ahead and say it: Not so much.
I read Rebel Angels a few weeks ago, enjoying it at some points and feeling wary about others. The subplot with Gemma’s father was good. The subplot with Ann’s deception, less so. The overall story having to do with the fantasy was soporifically predictable.
I mean, knew who Circe was from the end of Book One. Anybody else feel me?
In my humble opinion, 80% of the beauty of A Great and Terrible Beauty was the way it used convention to provoke surprise. A parent dies, the girl is thrown into a new world, struggles to make friends, ends up discovering a magical destiny. Nothing too new. Libba gets you comfortable in her world of cliches and cattiness. She clarifies the nature of a world where girls are strictly controlled. You think something is taboo today? It was a thousand times more taboo back then. We’re living A Little Princess all over again, except with less honorable characters. You start to snore.
Then she shocks you. With a number of things. Real-world issues you never considered had an impact back then. Drugs. Mental disorders. Sex. Ferality. Blood. More nudity. At the very end, these catty, naive, bratty schoolgirls finally get a dose of reality strong enough to knock some compassion into them–we can only hope.
I picked up book two expecting to experience more surprising artfulness, more things to learn. And it just didn’t happen. I was bored with the magical story line now that the realism was gone. I was sick of the bratty schoolgirl scenes. Kartik alone kept me reading. Two hundred pages into The Sweet Far thing, even he wasn’t enough. I read the last 100 pages or so and I was done with it.
I will give Gemma her great act of compassion, though she does it begrudgingly. I will give Ms. Bray credit for what she does with the end. The way the girls choose to live their lives. As for the sacrifice, I would have preferred a different fate for Gemma and Kartik–one that would have shown more growth on both their parts. I’m not sure what to think of the path that Gemma chooses. I’m curious to know what others think: sufficiently poignant and symbolic or too corny?
Overall, I shall give it: *** Three stars: all for the elements of surprise that made me think and brought history into new reality.