Misleading cover! I expected a book with passionate repressed sexuality and a hint of delicious magic. Of course, in a totally young-adult way. That w...moreMisleading cover! I expected a book with passionate repressed sexuality and a hint of delicious magic. Of course, in a totally young-adult way. That will teach me never to judge a book by its cover. Or by its title.
Why is it so bad? Her writing style attempts to be accurately Victorian to the point that it comes across as sterile and robotic. Devoid of any personal flair.
Bray decides to focus on the fantasy/adventure aspect of the story, despite it being the weakest part of her writing. The introduction of the Order and basically everything which happens after Gemma goes to England (ie the plotlines) are contrived.
The result is a book which is not very engaging to read.
India The story starts off in India, but I don't think it makes that much of a difference if it was set in England from the word go. As you'll find out, there is no discussion on the impact of this background on Gemma's current life at Spence. Not on the relationships she formed nor on her understanding dynamics of female cliques.
I suppose India is chosen to bring a sense of the exotic and to introduce Kartik, the romantic interest. Kartik is appealing, but I cannot believe him as an Indian in the 19th century. Let alone believe that he could pose as a Gypsy. Can't people really spot the difference between a Gypsy (usually of Hungarian descent) and an Indian? If Bray wants to put her own spin on things that are established, then she should have written a fantasy novel set in a made-up world.
Cliques The relationship between the girls is odd. None of the girls is actually likable. Ann is too mousy, Felicity too brash and Pippa too shallow. I thought cliques and bullying were going to be a storyline because Felicity and Pippa were introduced as top-of-the-chain girls, equivalent to popular girls in high school novels. And of course Gemma being the new girl was snubbed in the beginning. There was also no love lost between Felicity and Pippa. In short, they don't genuinely like one another.
Then suddenly they go to the realms together. They didn't even like one another - how could they be expected to trust one another enough to go to some magical realms together?
Another thing that I hate is the overtly-emotional quality of the writing. Gemma frequently laments on her inability to fit in, how she dreams of being free because she is not like the other girls who accept the role that society has assigned to them.
This suggests that Gemma is a modern woman - far better and more preferable to us, the modern readers than those Victorian girls. It lifts Gemma up only for thinking that she does not belong in her society. Surely she does not have the monopoly on being repressed by the society? What do those other Spence girls dream? Do all of them accept their roles? The superficial portrayal of these girls annoys me.
The funny thing about Gemma is that I never get the sense that she is as out of place in Spence as she thinks. Maybe not one of the popular girls but still belonged there anyway. Ann is the odd one out, being a scholarship girl. It is only Gemma's perceived superiority over the other mindless Spence girls which compels her to feel that she does not belong.
Passion and love I don't know much about the Victorian era and especially girls who lived in that era, but must they all be so coquettish? Squealing at every single mention of the word 'love'? I found this extremely annoying.
Is there any repressed passion as the cover suggests? Not really. Most of the 'passionate' scenes fail to get under the skin of the characters to make them truly brimming with passion.
What you get more of is a lecture rather than a discussion on passion and sexuality. Gemma pines for kisses here and there and there was no meaningful discussion on the positive and negative consequences of expressing your sexuality. Instead, Bray lectures that women carry tremendous (sexual) power which is why they are feared.
This aspect of the story can be interesting. The comparison between female power and the magic power is inevitable. The idea of The Order being a powerful sisterhood with female magical power is interesting and should be explored further. But Bray focuses on the adventure/thriller element which is not very good.
Lack of description Good fantasy books provide descriptions which assist the readers to make sense of the world. In this case, description of the realms is ordinary at best. Creatures inhibiting the realms can be found in most legends and are hardly original.
There is a curious lack of explanation on how Gemma's magic works. In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling successfully introduces and immerses the readers in her magical world. She creates a new world and introduces the readers to its rules and flaws. I felt like I was at Hogwarts. I've never felt like that while I was reading AGATB. I felt distant from the realms, never knowing what makes them work.
Another disappointment is how little the relationship between illusion and real life is explored. Magic is an illusion, but there is never any negative consequence for the girls in real life.
The truly sad thing is that Libba Bray is actually quite a witty writer, judging by the way she writes her bio at the end of the book. Why doesn't she utilise this talent in writing AGATB?(less)
The book has the same simple and wonderful illustration style that Satrapi exhibits in her previous works. However, the story is too short and the pro...moreThe book has the same simple and wonderful illustration style that Satrapi exhibits in her previous works. However, the story is too short and the protagonist can be unsympathetic at times.
Nasser Ali is a musician and seems to be misunderstood by everyone around him, including his wife and children. Music and love are Nasser Ali's life forces and his heart feels the loss of both things strongly.
To be artistic is admirable, but Nasser Ali has his faults. He does not pay enough attention to his family. He misunderstands his children. He succeeds in having a relationship with his musical instrument and passionate love, but fails in having a relationship with his family.
I pity him because he wants to die because of a broken heart. There is more to the world than beauty and arts and there are ways to mend a broken heart. (less)
This more of a rant than critical/scientific criticism on the culture of marriage. The book attempts to debunk myths surrounding singlehood. It is a n...moreThis more of a rant than critical/scientific criticism on the culture of marriage. The book attempts to debunk myths surrounding singlehood. It is a nice but flawed read. Except for the insight into the welfare system and the subtle discrimination which singles face, I don't think that this book is necessary.
DePaulo highlights the fact that marriage is deeply ingrained in our culture. I didn't need the book to tell me this; just about every magazine is obsessed with who's hitched up with whom.
A positive thing about the book is the revelation on how much the welfare system rewards marrieds more than singles. This explains and encourages the importance of marriage in society. However, proving that this book is a mere rant, DePaulo does not explore the idea that there might be a political objective behind it. Governments do want more marriages and more children, especially in developed countries with declining birth rates.
DePaulo also opens my eyes to the phenomenon of subtle singlism (discrimination towards singles). The book illustrates instances of subtle singlism that most singles would accept without batting their eyelashes - which is quite scary. It shows how much all of us revere marriage.
But most of the myths in the books are old news. It is no secret that singles are treated differently, especially by couples. Singles are given unflattering labels, and always asked the dreaded 'what's up in your love life' question wherever they go.
Singles know and expect the obvious discrimination. What would be the point of debunking the obvious myths? There can hardly be one single person who would believe them in the first place because these myths are stereotypes. The statistics do not show that there are millions of gloomy depressed people despite the fact that there are millions of single people.
So, what is the aim of the book? Is DePaulo trying to convince herself on the glory of singlehood? I guess debunking these myths opens the eyes of anyone who discriminates based on marital status. Especially the ones who engage in subtle discrimination - the people who ask questions like 'why are you single?' and 'what's wrong with you?'. The book also boosts morale of those who are single and calms those who are single but desperately trying to change that (but what is wrong with wanting to change?). But would any of these people read this book? I gather that the target audience for this book is people who are proudly single. They don't need anyone to bust myths about themselves or to learn that it is OK to be single.
What I don't like most is how DePaulo pokes fun at marrieds in her attempt to glorify singlehood. There is a story about a journalist who was appointed to report a very important story overseas and admitted that she missed her family and cried in her hotel room. DePaulo mocks her, and rebukes her for crying when she should be happy that she had a good job. But why shouldn't she miss her husband? He's her husband after all.
What DePaulo does when she pokes fun at the marrieds is to attack discrimination with more discrimination. Judging people because they are married is discrimination. There are married couples who do not fit the mould and are non-traditional, just like there are singles who embrace being single. Being proud of your single status does not justify any counter discrimination towards marrieds just as feminism does not mean discrimination towards men. The last chapter in the book affirms this broader view, but it comes after all the snide remarks of previous chapters.
Being single or married is a choice - a woman could cry because she misses her husband despite having a great job or a woman could decide not to get married because her job requires her utmost commitment. If you do not like your status, you have the power to change it. It is OK to choose either status, to be either single or coupled up. Each status has its pros and cons. Neither one is better than the other.
Additionally, DePaulo seems to pick a bone with anyone who implicitly or explicitly suggests in their comments that people should be married. This can be rather petty and childish. It can also reinforce some of the very myths that she tries to bust.
For example, an interviewee was asked whether she had family and she answered that she had a husband and children. DePaulo thought she was practicing singlism, because she could have said that her family was her parents, siblings, cousins, etc. What if she is an orphan or she does not like her parents? Even though she may have parents, siblings, etc. her closest family is her husband and kids. Why shouldn't she be able to say that those people are her family? I think this is just taking the definition of being petty too far.
Another example of unnecessary rant is the paragraph arguing that the reason that 9/11 happened is because President Bush did not see an urgent memo in January 2001 due to a family holiday. It is implied if Bush was single, he would then have enough time to attend to the memo.
This only reinforces the myth on how singles are married to the job and have 'no lives'. It implies that singles on holidays can be interrupted at any time. A second issue is regardless of their marital status every nation leader should be able to go on holidays and enjoy them uninterruptedly. Thirdly, no evidence was put forward on the direct connection between the frequency of holidays and being single. It is possible that Bush would still go on holiday at that time if he was single. Or that he does not wish to be interrupted by a memo despite his being single and 'no-life' status.
After numerous similar attacks, one gets the impression that one would have to be extremely careful in what and how one should speak to DePaulo if one does not want to be on the receiving end of DePaulo's attacks. This rather paints a single person as touchy and uncomfortable with their status.
Perhaps minding what and how one speaks to another is exactly what DePaulo's aim is all along - despite the circuitous approach to achieve it.