The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

Sweet Far thingThe gothic-Victorian-fantasy concludes, at last, with an 800-page behemoth of a book that is more of the same; it’s the kind of thing you’ll like if you like that kind of thing. Boarding-school student Gemma Doyle has the power to enter a magical world known as the realms; she also has just bound the magic of the realms to herself, promising to make an alliance with the other creatures of the realms and share her magic. However, everybody is targeting her for her power now, both inside and outside the realms, and with all the complications in her life and her friends’ lives, she’s tempted to keep the power for herself for just a little longer.

Alas, I didn’t like it quite as much as the first two books. Maybe it’s the sheer length that makes its flaws stand out more. It’s one thing that the voice sounds a lot less authentic when I read it on the heels of a genuinely Victorian novel; it’s another when I find myself getting thrown out of the story by the anachronisms and moralizing and Social Problems. I don’t really want to be confronted with cutting and child abuse when I’m reading a girly-Victorian-gothic, and I’m irritated that Gemma is a 21st century liberal atheist feminist. I’m not saying there weren’t liberal atheist feminists in the 19th century, but their attitudes weren’t 21st century ones!

It wouldn’t be a historical YA novel without unnecessary cameos, but Oscar Wilde pops up just so the author can put lines in a character’s mouth: “True affection and love have a purity which shall always prevail over bigotry.” Admirable sentiment, but it doesn’t have a real motivation in the context of the story. That, and the speeches about war and peace, don’t belong to the time and place of the book. They seem too modern, too political, too Relevant.

Are all upper-class Victorian girls fated to be shallow twits with narrow corsets and narrow minds, or miserable and resigned, or miserable and rebellious? Somehow I can only think it has to be more complicated than that, and in this book it isn’t.

Still, there’s a lot of thrilling scenes, a lot of drama, a lot of adventure, and as a squealy-girly-book it’s a lot more satisfying than that other wildly popular squealy-girly-dark-romantic-paranomal trilogy (you know the one).

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