Series Review: Gemma Doyle

Series Review: Gemma DoyleA Great and Terrible Beauty
by Libba Bray
Narrated by Josephine Bailey
Series: Gemma Doyle #1
Published 2003 by Listening Library
11 hrs., 13 mins. Audiobook
Source: Library
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult


In this debut gothic novel mysterious visions, dark family secrets and a long-lost diary thrust Gemma and her classmates back into the horrors that followed her from India.

It's 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma's reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she's been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence's most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

To be honest, when I began this book I wasn’t sure I would finish it. I wasn’t a very big fan of the narrator or Gemma for that matter. It also took me some time to get used to the fact that it was in present tense. I’m glad I didn’t stop listening though because it really grew on me. As the plot thickened I was drawn in and couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve never really read any fiction about witchcraft, unless you count the Harry Potter books. I don’t really count those since they are in their own world. This story is different, and unique in my opinion, which I admit may not amount to much because of my limited knowledge of witchcraft literature.

A very obvious theme of this book is female power. The Victorian society these girls are brought up in doesn’t allow them any power. Instead, they are put in a place of submission. They must obey the laws of gentility and learn to become suitable wives and mothers. The power the girls find in the Realms makes the their opressive future seem even more depressing. Why would you choose to live that way when you are able to weild such power? But how far can one go in search of power before they’ve crossed the line? This is the problem of power, and it devours the power-hungry (characters like Felicity).

That fact that the novel is set Victorian England only makes the power of the magic more frustrating. It’s something they will never be able to experience in their lives as dainty housewives. This only increases the conflict of the plot, which I think is a good thing. It keeps the reader interested. The girls find their “place” in society unjust and are sick of being told how to act. They have the minds of true feminists, ready to rise above the men holding them back. Gemma makes this apparent when she snaps on Kartik about the Rakshana’s orders.

What kind of young-adult fiction would this be without a little sexual tension? And boy is it tense between Gemma and Kartik. I half expect one of them to pounce on the other in every scene they have together. But alas, they live in times of propriety and what a scandal it would be if young Gemma was caught in the arms of a foreigner. Let me just say, this is the type of thing that makes me giggle when reading (or listening to) young-adult fiction. It’s the kind of thing that keeps hormonal teenage girls reading. Trust me, I was a teenage girl only a few years ago. I was the same way. Thankfully, Bray doesn’t get too carried away with it. I find it much more tasteful to hint at what the characters want rather than relay the intensity of the actual act in this type of book.

I will commend the author for the fact that the story is both character-driven and plot-driven, not one or the other. The characters develop from some of the very sobering situations they find themselves in. At the same time, the plot has a good, steady pace and doesn’t threaten to bore the reader to tears.

Series Review: Gemma DoyleRebel Angels
by Libba Bray
Narrated by Josephine Bailey
Series: Gemma Doyle #2
Published 2006 by Listening Library
14 hrs., 8 mins. Audiobook
Source: Library
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult


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 book was a quite an improvement from the first. I remember beginning this series and thinking I may not be able to finish it. The first book really swayed me at the end though and I decided to pick this one up. I’m so glad I did. I just love when every book gets better and I think that’s definitely where this trilogy is going.

Gemma is growing. There’s some wonderful character development going on with her. Felicity, who I wasn’t fond of in the first one, I like much better in this one. She still has a tendency to make me mad, but it’s nothing like it was in the first book. I really came to love Anne as well. She was a bit to broody for me in the first book. But alas! I still find Pippa very annoying. Kartik becomes a little less mysterious and a little more sexy. I love the energy between him and Gemma.

The plot was paced pretty well. In the beginning I found myself a little frustrated with the fact that I had no clue what was going on. That’s only natural since Gemma herself didn’t know what was going on. she and her friends sometimes became quite reckless with the magic in the realms. I did love the development between her and Kartik. The intensity of their relationship has doubled. They’ve become closer, but are still as forbidden as they were in the first book. When I finished I was very excited about what’s to come with the two of them.

I finished ready to begin the next one, but the twists that occurred in this one have me feeling skeptical of anything that happens. I’m just not going to guess anymore. I know I’ll be wrong.

Series Review: Gemma DoyleThe Sweet Far Thing
by Libba Bray
Narrated by Josephine Bailey
Series: Gemma Doyle #3
Published 2007 by Listening Library
20 mins., 32 mins. Audiobook
Source: Library
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult


It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum 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 seems that this trilogy just got better and better with each book. I was throughly impressed with this trilogy, but particularly this book. The story got more intense. I couldn’t get enough of this book. I’m very sad it’s over.

Oh the characters! There are just so many and I love them all. The wonderful thing is that we get to see more of them. We get to understand them and why they are the way they are. the development is amazing. By the end, Gemma barely resembles the girl we came across in the first book, or even at the beginning of this book. the path of each character, whether they come to a good or tragic end, seems to be mapped out perfectly by Bray. When I named Gemma as one of my favorite heroines in a top 10 list a few weeks ago I remember someone saying Gemma got on their nerves. I know this was just their opinion, but I have to disagree now that I’ve finished the trilogy. I truly love Gemma. I think she’s a wonderful character.

I also enjoyed all of the twisting and turning. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, my mind was turned inside out by a new plot twist. I’m glad Bray didn’t take the predictable road. Even after I thought I had been numbed by all the twisting and turning, she still managed to surprise me. It was a well-paced plot and I couldn’t stop listening for a second.

Speaking of listening, I really grew to love Josephine Bailey during my listen to these books. I might have to see what else she’s narrated. In the beginning, she sounded too old to be Gemma, but now that I’ve listened to the whole trilogy she’s become Gemma’s voice.

Though I would categorize this as fantasy, Bray does a great job of giving it a realistic edge. Things aren’t all butterflies and fairies (well, at least not good fairies) so don’t kid yourself into thinking this will be like some fluffy little paranormal romance where everyone gets their happy ending (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Meyer). Just like real life, there are hardships and they don’t always end the way we’d hope. I am always drawn closer to a story with this type of underlying message.

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