This is a great book for those who like their YA on the paranormal-side, sans vampire love triangles, with the slightest touch of romance.
For the mostThis is a great book for those who like their YA on the paranormal-side, sans vampire love triangles, with the slightest touch of romance.
For the most part, the novel takes place in Victorian England at an all-girls finishing school. If the words Victorian England usually frighten you away from books, have no fear: the girls of Spence Academy ring truer as modern-day characters than Victorian characters any day.
For those purists who titter with excitement at the words Victorian England: approach with caution, these characters could infuriate you (see Reviews).
And for those spec-fic/paranormal lovers who insist on good world-building? Forget it. This world was built, I imagine, by an author flying by the seat of her pantaloons. But, its okay... I love Libba Bray and her nonsense pantaloons!
Gemma starts the book with a bratty (not to mention somewhat racist) sensibility, but she loses her mother and her imperialist sense-of-entitlement quite early on in the book, and quickly forms into an intelligent, witty character with a good heart - albeit one who is incapable of recognizing foreshadowing (you, reader, will always be a few steps ahead of darling Gemma).
The girls at school are very much like Victorian Mean-Girls, and just when I honestly can't see the appeal of winning them over - they turn into characters with multifacted personalities. Eventually, they become likeable.
You'll notice that I've only given this book 3-stars. That's because
1) I liked it (and that's what a 3-star rating stands for, dammit) 2) All the things I did not like about the series take their fall in my rating of the first book.
See, A Great And Terrible Beauty is the first in a trilogy about Gemma Doyle and her "magical powers." The other books in the series, Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing, get higher ratings from me. And one of the reasons is that all of the things that annoyed me about Bray's anachronistic characterization ((view spoiler)[a girl who cuts herself?!?!?! O-come on! If that's not a 20th Century Teenage Epidemic, what is? (hide spoiler)]), her shoddy world-building, or her "I'm-equating-whiteness-with-beauty" physical descriptions, either paled away in the second and third installments or stopped bothering me.
Otherwise, I think that this is an engaging and exciting read about the power of friendship. It is an F-you in the face of the ladies-in-corsets Victorian agenda. I mean, this book has plenty of girls rolling around in the dirt and drinking booze in a cave, or girls being vexed and distraught by the choices they never even get to the chance to make...
Since Libba Bray is writing 110 or so years after the period, she injects some commentary into the mix, but does so without being didactic or uptight.
I frequently troll the rec-boards seeking people who are fans of "paranormal romance" who have not yet read this book. I recommend it to all the ladies out there reading Twilight and Twilight knock-offs, hoping they can see a world where magic exists, where girls have almost no rights of their own, but claim them anyway.
And especially, I want them to read a book where the sexy love-interest waits patiently in the background while the main character takes care of all the other shit she has to do... like saving The Realms....more
Italy, Italy. People go there, I am told, to free themselves of the constraints of stuffy, modern life. To take part in its beauty, and really live. LItaly, Italy. People go there, I am told, to free themselves of the constraints of stuffy, modern life. To take part in its beauty, and really live. Ladies often go there to f*uck hot Italian guys, eat tasty treats, and possibly write a memoir all about their spiritual awakening and/or f*ucking that hot Italian guy.
Well, lady-characters in the turn of the century did the same thing! Minus the memoir part. They never got a chance to write their memoirs. No, their authors killed them off before they got the chance to reflect on eating, or praying, or loving. I'm pretty sure that they killed these "free-spirited" ladies off because these ladies preferred the sexy Italians to their stuffy British and snobby American male counterparts, and they sadly needed to learn their lessons: Italy is a fine place to visit, Ladies, as long as you have a male chaperone who wishes to bore you to death with lectures about architecture as he leads you by the elbow through the safest of Italian tourist spots.
E.M. Forster agrees, "Italy is such a delightful place to live in if you happen to be a man...In the democracy of the caffe or the street the great question of our life has been solved, and the brotherhood of man is a reality. But it is accomplished at the expense of the sisterhood of women."
In the beginning of Where Angels Fear To Tread, I was reminded of Henry James' Daisy Miller. In a sense, Lilia is described by Forster as a sort of silly woman, just as Daisy was a silly "girl." In both instances, our silly women need to be sought after, rescued from Italy, saved by men. In both instances, the men fail.
But, I had more hope for Lilia. Where James chastises, Forster seems, at first, to empathize. Daisy's character-execution is foreshadowed, but fast (malaria), and she never has to back down, submit to Winterbourne. Winterbourne never gets to mold her character to his liking. Daisy is Daisy until the end.
Lilia's character-execution is worse, in my opinion. Before he can kill Lilia off, Forster first has her undergo a character change: Lilia becomes less spirited, smaller, older, insecure, afraid of her lover, Gino. What happened to that crazy Cougar-Lilia we met in the beginning, with the money and the power? She dies giving birth to a son - an ultimate sacrifice for a patriarchal line.
Now, don't get me wrong. I did not like Lilia, as a character, for the most part. I mean, she ditches her daughter for a 21-year-old Italian guy. But, I was disturbed by her end, by the ease with which Forster killed her off. After her death, we move back to England, where we gauge the reactions from the rest of the characters. With the exception of Caroline Abbott (a family friend) and Lilia's daughter Irma, everyone else is relieved that they don't have to deal with Lilia anymore. I felt, if Lilia's death was heartless, well - the lack of grief surrounding it was even worse. I think that Forster included Lilia's downfall in a less chastising or patronizing way than James. He shows how the masculine influence can really harm the spirit or personality of the woman, but his lack of sympathy was somewhat disheartening.
The real triumph of character in Where Angels Fear To Tread is Philip, though. Philip ties in all of the the novel's central themes: idealization vs. reality, of the romanticization of one's sense of identity, voyeurism vs. participation. And of course, the satire of British superiority, and subsequent control.
In the words of Philip, "Society is invincible - to a certain degree. But your real life is your own, and nothing can touch it. There is no power on earth that can prevent your criticizing and despising mediocrity - nothing that can stop you retreating into splendour and beauty - into the thoughts and beliefs that make the real life - the real you."
I want to mention, too, that the introduction to this edition was really good. Ruth Padel, O ye of the well-phrased thesis! "All of the novels published in Forster's lifetime conjure a place, a way of looking at a place, a journey, or a passage towards it. A title beginning "Where," beginning a novel-writing career that will end with the last words of A Passage To India - "not there." From "Where" to "not there" is the Forster arc, eyes on the horizon...which [is] incomprehensible and unattainable, but which symbolizes something within him, something that matters deeply to him."
Eager to read more Forster. If I remember from reading A Room With A View, it gets better than this, for sure......more