A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order.
As I mentioned before, several months ago I'm pretty sure that I tried this book. For some reason, which I don't remember, (probably something to do with too many books checked out from the library) I stopped. I picked it up again a couple weeks ago and have been working it into my busy schedule, which has been extra busy these past couple weeks.
In the very beginning of the book, one of the first things that I noticed was the lovely word language. One example is on page 13, when Gemma describes her situation by saying, "Panic blooms in my mouth like weeds." The moment I read it I was in awe, and remember trying to explain it's awesomeness to my friends, none of which really understood. So I just marked it and decided to share it on here! :)
Another phenomenal example of Bray's wonderful descriptions is on page 24 where she describes Victoria Station. The entire paragraph is much to long to put in here, but it was one of the best set ups to a scene that I've ever read. This description was a little less flowery as the quote above, but was beautiful in a wonderfully informative way.
So summed up, the style of writing was very pleasing.
The setting is one of my favorite parts of the book. It begins with Gemma and her mother living the privileged wealthy life of Brits living in India. Sadly, this only lasts for a little while before Gemma is whisked to London, where she has always dreamed of going, but not in the way that she has to come now. The finishing school that she is enrolled in is a little bit cliche; a castle surrounded by Gypsy infested woods and it wasn't presented in the best way,
The setting that I liked the most was definitely "The Realms". The description of that magical place was pretty and interesting to read about.
The plot was probably the most "so-so" part of the book. And quite confusing. I felt that Circe and Mary Dowd were so much more interesting before we actually got to know them. The mysteriousness was wonderful, but the execution was not so good. The climax was very much at the end and there wasn't anything that really summed up the story. Of course there were a few hints to make you want to read the sequel, but I'm not sure I will, because I was a little disappointed with the ending.
Libba Bray is also the author of the two sequels; Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing as well as several other books.