I wanted to name this blog post "Hanging with the Victorian Girls" because I really feel like that's what I've been doing lately. A trilogy is a big time commitment, and in this case, one I'm glad I made.
During a recent trip to Nashville, my daughter and I were heavily into our trilogies. She begged me to read the Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) by Libba Bray so that we could talk about it. She moved on to the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer(Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse vampire series set in modern day, which has really captured the attention and imagination of the 16-year-old set. (My daughter and her friends are actually getting together at a local bookstore and coffee shop first thing on the morning of August 2 to get the fourth book (Breaking Dawn). I'll be taking that series to the beach with me in August.
Meanwhile, I was hanging with the Victorian girls in the world created by Bray. I couldn’t help but notice some Harry Potter similarities—young girl discovers that she has powers, she heads off to boarding school feeling alone and friendless, she learns that she has enemies before she learns that she has the ability to face and fight them. Once you accept those similarities, you follow Gemma Doyle on her path of self-discovery.
Gemma Doyle is a lovely brave girl of many admirable qualities, but many times throughout the trilogy, I wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled. (“You have magical powers, and that is what you chose to do with them. Seriously?”) I found myself getting irritated by her actions, but then I came to respect Bray’s choices for Gemma’s actions. Gemma is a Victorian girl, and nothing is expected of her except to attend boarding school to learn to be a proper lady whom a gentleman would want to marry. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that she is rather overwhelmed by some of the dramatic situations in which she finds herself (or into which she blindly stumbles!). Watching her mature and evolve into a stronger self makes it a worthwhile read.
After initially feeling lost and alone when she gets to school, Gemma makes friends with an interesting group of girls. Ann is her roommate who is at the school on a scholarship. She is poor—she is only there to learn to become a governess for her nouveau riche cousins’ children. Her dreams of becoming a singer/actress are fading into the drab background of limited possibilities for Ann. Felicity is wealthy, but her parents are alternately neglectful of their daughter or entirely too involved with her, which leads Felicity to desire independence and some say in how she lives her life above all else. Pippa’s beauty overwhelms those around her, but her sense of self-worth is entirely based on her looks, leaving her vulnerable when it comes to making important life-and-death decisions.
Gemma learns that her magic brings with it many responsibilities. The magical world she and her friends are able to enter is populated with many different characters and creatures who demand much of Gemma. Gemma also faces the demands of her family and friends. She often has to choose whom to help and when. Her choices are often made on an emotional level rather than a practical one. But then again, she’s a Victorian teenager.
If you are looking for escapism this summer, this series will keep you entertained albeit occasionally irritated. In any event, you’ll find the pages turning faster and faster to find out whether Gemma Doyle triumphs over the many challenges she faces in both this world and the magical realm.