The more Gemma Doyle learns about her visions and the magic that allows her to enter the Realms–a world beyond our own usually seen in dreams or death–the more questions she has. Gemma finally knows the truth about her mother and the mystical Order that she once belonged to . . . and helped destroy with her closest friend, Circe.
Now the magic is loose in the realms and Circe is hunting Gemma, her only way back to all of that magic. Kartik, Gemma’s mysterious shadow since leaving India, insists Gemma must bind the magic before disaster strikes. Which would be fine if Gemma had any idea how to do such a thing.
Worse, is it the Christmas season–Gemma’s first since her mother’s death. While her friends Felicity and Ann talk of balls and other wonderful plans for their time away from Spence Academy, Gemma is left to wonder what the holidays can hold at home with her strict grandmother, her irritating brother, and her feeble father.
The holiday season promises a world of distractions in the form of balls and the most intriguing form of one Simon Middleton–not to mention an introduction to the rarefied circles of high society. But Gemma has no time for distractions.
Questions will be answered, enemies will be fought, and Gemma will have to take her stand in Rebel Angels (2006) by Libba Bray.
Rebel Angels is the second book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy (which began with A Great and Terrible Beauty). It is also one of those books where it is very clear that it is the second book in a trilogy, which is fine. The beginning of the story provides almost enough recap of earlier events to make it possible to read this book out of sequence though, as ever, many nuances would be lost that way.
While Rebel Angels is a continuation of an already exciting story, this book lacked some of the verve and spark of the first. With all of the summarizing the story starts slowly, picking up when Gemma and her friends depart from Spence for their holiday. While Gemma and Kartik evolve and change especially throughout this story, it felt like a lot of the other characters were working through the same emotions and the same problems readers saw in the first book.
That said, the second half of the book is much more exciting and faster paced than the first. Bray once again provides a vivid window into the world of 1895 London from the eyes of a heroine willing and ready to think for herself. The underlying commentary on the roles of women in Victorian England and feminism is also fascinating in a book that is ostensibly a historical fantasy.
As a whole the story is very interesting and aptly sets up the conclusion of the trilogy, of course, but Rebel Angels just lacked that little spark to set truly set it apart as a book in its own right.
Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Chime by Franny Billingsley, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Exclusive Bonus Content: Although I really didn’t like this one as much as the first (and feel really really guilty about it!), this book did make me wish more academics read YA Lit. I love that academics can study popular culture and literature, but not everyone can write scholarly books and articles about Buffy and Harry Potter. Where are the articles about the feminist underpinnings of the Gemma Doyle books? Where is the commentary on this trilogy being a reflection of the evolution of feminism from the discovery of the Problem Without a Name in The Feminine Mystique to the Second Wave feminist movement? Where is the Feminist Theory/Women’s Studies class that has this series as assigned reading? No, seriously, where is it?