Britt's Reviews > The Sweet Far Thing

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
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's review
May 11, 08

bookshelves: fantasy-sci-fi, feminism, fiction, relationships, ya, history
Read in May, 2008

** spoiler alert ** I think I liked this one the best of the three in the trilogy. I can’t be sure because I read the other two about two years ago, and I just have a vague impression of them. The first two were interesting, but I didn’t really connect with the story. Clearly, I liked them enough to read the whole trilogy though. Looking at the size of each book, I am guessing the first two were more tightly plotted, at least.


The Sweet Far Thing had a lot of good and a lot of bad. First, Libba Bray has a lovely, poetic writing style. I love some of her descriptions. I was surprised by how well written I found it because I remember being a bit indifferent to the prose in the first two. But it probably could have been quite a bit shorter. It seemed to wander aimlessly, and I sometimes wondered what the point was. It also took a long time to find out anything of importance. It was rather repetitive in going over the same information we already had again and again.


Something that really bothered me was the magic. Maybe I was reading too quickly to catch everything, but it was a bit confusing. So, we are told numerous times that the magic is changing. That’s fine. It could have been really interesting to look at the magic as an organic, living thing. But. We didn’t really get that, did we? Instead, the changing magic was used as an excuse to make the magic do whatever the heck Bray wanted with no rules or guidelines. Rules are mentioned, Gemma said she doesn’t know what the magic is capable of, but we never see any rules in action and we don’t really see them trying to figure that out. Once with the healing Gemma tried, but other than that it’s all talk.


I like how she dealt with our illusions v. reality. I guess what we are generally told through books and movies and other forms of art and communication is that we must rip down our illusions and embrace the truth. But here she’s saying that, yeah, facing reality is the best, but sometimes the illusions are necessary. While it’s an interesting message, it wasn’t really the most subtle one, but she doesn’t seem to do subtlety. This is clearly seen in her push for female empowerment.

If you’re writing a historical novel, it’s probably a good idea to attempt to keep things accurate instead of stuffing it with anachronistic ideals. The characters in this were way too modern for their time. This bothered me in all the books. Their language was often too modern, and they would not have gotten away with everything they did. Felicity debuting? Probably not. Which is not to say feminism should not be portrayed in historical novels, because clearly women didn’t just up and decide sometime in the 70’s that they wanted rights too; it’s just a bit inaccurate for the period. So, good ideas, but it got a bit preachy, especially in the end. I tend to get a little annoyed when authors spend paragraph upon paragraph telling me what they want to say. If you’re going to do that, try writing essays not fiction.


I think there was a lot of potential to work out how one deals with power and becomes a leader and makes decisions, but she failed with this. Along the same lines, I thought she could have dealt with facing the consequences of your actions, developing responsibility or maybe working hard to get what you want, but another fail. I put these together because I see the failure coming from the same place.

Gemma is in charge of all this magic and is supposed to be protecting it and making decisions regarding the realms and she and Felicity and Anne are going through a variety of issues at home, but they just play with the magic. They use the magic to get what they want with no work on their part. They suffer no consequences from doing this. Maybe I’m just used to stories that try to teach that taking the easy way is bad. But using the magic to get what they want denies them growth and is an easy answer on the characters’ part and on the writer’s part. The only one who does learn anything from using the magic is Anne.

Allowing the characters to use magic with no negative consequences, and creating girls who are too modern for their time, and allowing them to have fun and get what they want may be exactly Bray’s point. She’s writing a fictional novel, so perhaps she wanted to create a world in which magic could be used for your own purposes without backfiring on you. She is writing about multiple characters who all have a lot of suffering in their backgrounds prior to when the novels start, so perhaps for a fictional fantastical book it is not necessarily bad to portray these characters trying to free themselves and be who they are without suffering the often necessary compromises of real life.


The character development and growth was lacking, though I did think the characters were pretty round. I love Kartik; I think he is the most interesting character, possibly the most well done despite his fairly small part. I think all the girls are well-realized teenagers with their own unique qualities and flaws. I loved watching Pippa’s decline and seeing how it took shape.

Anne grew the most, I think. We actually saw a progression in her. Pippa changed at least, though it was her corruption we saw. Even Tom grew as a character, though maybe it was a bit abrupt. Gemma & Felicity just kind of stood still.

Gemma would waffle between being insecure and confident, but nothing she did really lead to any actual change in her. She was told numerous times to search her dark corners, which could have provided for some great realizations and growth, but she just brushes it off. She feels she is all alone in the world (as any normal teenager would) but is told time and again that she doesn’t have to be. Tom says, “We’re every one of us alone in this world, Gemma. . . . But you have company, if you want it” (p. 695). This seems to be a theme of Bray’s, yet she sends Gemma off on her own to a new country in the end. Why? Is Gemma incapable of internalizing any lesson taught her?

Felicity especially bothered me, but I think the reason she didn’t grow as a character is that the author had already made her the perfectly liberated female character. She did what she wanted, she didn’t care what others thought, the suffering in her background spurred her towards this, but we never saw any growth in the novels. The front flap of the book says, “Rule-breaking Felicity must do what she’s told or risk losing her inheritance….” But she doesn’t do what she’s told, does she? The most we see is that she charms the family who is sponsoring her for her debut. So, maybe she should have learned that sometimes we need to do things we don’t want. Maybe she doesn’t need to grow in that way necessarily, but some growth would have been nice.


I really didn’t like that Kartik died, not because we need to have a perfectly happy ending but because it made no sense. At all. Nobody can deny this. Why did he have to die? He said the debt must be paid, but the Winterlands creatures wanted to sacrifice Gemma to get the magic and to make the tree’s power stronger? And we do not want this to happen, right? That’s why they are fighting? To save the magic from the Winterlands? Am I missing something? What debt is there? Why should there be any debt? Why is it necessary for someone to die? I am totally willing to admit that I am missing something here, because again, I find the magic muddled and confusing.

I read a rumor that Bray killed him because she didn’t want readers to think you needed a man to be happy. Alright, fine, that’s her prerogative as the author, but at least have the death make sense. Also, there’s a difference between needing a man to be happy and finding your soul mate, which Bray clearly showed was the case for Gemma and Kartik. I don’t necessarily believe in the idea of one soul mate, but throughout the books we are shown just how enmeshed in each other they are and how they are meant to be together. After emphasizing how not alone Gemma can be (through a number of relationships), why take away the relationship that could arguably be the deepest?


So, lots of complaints, as is my way, but I really did enjoy it overall.
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Comments (showing 1-5)

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message 5: by Renée (new) - added it

Renée I really like this review and agree with most/much of what you said. I ranted about it as well, but not quite as nicely as you did. :)

Britt Thank you! :) It's always good to get a little ranting done.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

All I have to say is... Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.... Specially about the last two paragraphs its like you were reading my mind...

Hannah Thank you, I couldn't have wrote a better review than that.

Lydia I completely agree with you!

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