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The Sweet Far Thing

Review

The Sweet Far Thing

It's 1896, and Gemma Doyle's time at Spence Academy for Young Ladies is about to come to an end in a whirl of parties and balls that will mark her and her classmates' debutante "season." For Gemma, the departure from Spence is bittersweet. As eager as she is to get far away from authoritarian Mrs. Nightwing and the mean, snooty girls who torment her and her friends, Gemma is also uneasy.

Can her headstrong friend Felicity overcome her notorious history and her willful ways in time to have a successful debut? Will scholarship girl Ann find any way to escape her fate as the governess to some particularly nasty young relations? Will Gemma finally be able to answer her questions about the Realm, the mystical land to which she and her friends have been journeying? And will she ultimately reunite with her mysterious lost love, Kartik?

Despite Gemma and her friends' efforts, the boundaries between this world and the Realm beyond seem to be breaking down, with potentially devastating results. The workers who are rebuilding the school's East Wing, where tragic events a quarter century earlier set Gemma's story in motion, unearth relics that perhaps should have remained covered.

Gemma is doing her best to remain in control of the Realm, but it's rough going. Although Gemma has "come into" her magic the same way she will "come out" in society, she still lacks control. And her efforts to heal a girl's blindness, for example, or to rescue the girls' friend Pippa, who is stuck in a sort of limbo, are fruitless. What's more, the evil forces Gemma had thought were trapped seem again to be threatening all that she and her friends hold most dear.

Libba Bray's highly successful trilogy, which began with A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and continued with REBEL ANGELS, comes together beautifully in THE SWEET FAR THING. One of my earlier criticisms of Bray's novels was that they failed to adequately blend the more realistic elements (which often focus on minutiae of Victorian social customs and class issues) with the fantastic ones. Here, she does so masterfully, as Gemma strives to use her supernatural powers to grant herself and her friends futures more fulfilling than those proscribed by their rigid Victorian society.

A SWEET FAR THING can seem to move slowly at times, and this 819-page epic can get bogged down in those details (whether of society etiquette or of Realm mythology). But I prefer to think that the leisurely pace of this final installment is a sign that Bray just doesn't want to say goodbye to these characters. I have a hunch that her many readers will be just as reluctant to leave Gemma, Felicity and Ann --- despite the happy endings and surprise joys that lie on the far side of danger.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 26, 2007

The Sweet Far Thing
by Libba Bray

  • Publication Date: December 26, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0385730306
  • ISBN-13: 9780385730303