Rebel Angels

So, remember how I said I wouldn't continue reading this series unless I stumbled upon a used copy of the next books? Well, I found one of Rebel Angels, the second in the series by Libba Bray, and I also had an afternoon where all I wanted was something easy to read that I could finish quickly. This fit the bill.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I liked the second novel any more than the first. I actually preferred the first, because this seemed to fall victim to the usual muddled second novel problems.

It is shortly before Christmas at Spence, a finishing school for girls in England, and everyone is getting ready to return to their homes for the holidays. Gemma is scheduled to head to London for Christmas with her grandmother, father, and brother; Felicity will also be in London with her father the Admiral and her mother, who is hosting the most popular ball of the Christmas season; and poor, orphaned Ann will be staying at Spence with the servants. It's been nearly two months since the girls learned about the Order, visited the Realms, and had their terrible encounter with Circe. This resulted in the death of their friend Pippa, who chose to remain in the Realms rather than face a loveless marriage and continue keeping her epilepsy a secret. While Felicity, Gemma and Ann miss her dearly, Gemma is unwilling to enter the Realms again for fear of what she'll find there, after having smashed the stones that kept the magic from flowing freely. It is only after a visit from Kartik (the young Indian man ordered to watch Gemma in the last novel by his own sect, the Rakshana) where he urges her to enter the Realms again to bind the magic in the Temple that Gemma and her friends attempt to return. Of course, what Gemma doesn't know is that Kartik has been ordered to help her find the Temple, bind the magic to the Rakshana instead of the Order, and then kill her. Kartik has mixed feelings on this last bit, seeing as he seems as conflictingly smitten with Gemma as she is with him.

Rather than separate the girls for the course of the narrative (which takes place entirely during the Christmas break), Felicity uncharacteristically invites Ann home with her for the holidays with the plan of spreading the rumor that Ann is really descended from Russian royalty. Before Gemma even makes it home from the train station, she meets Simon, a young aristocrat of good breeding. He's rumored to have a bit of a reputation as a ladies' man, but he seems rather open in his courtship of her. There are a number of other details that all come into play in terms of the narrative: Gemma's brother is desperately trying to break their father's addiction to laudanum (and later, opium) while home from his duties as a doctor at Bethlam Bedlam insane asylum; Gemma learns of a girl at Bethlam who might also have access to the Realms and know where to find the temple; there's concern over a new teacher at Spence who might know more than she lets on; Gemma meets up once again with Miss Moore, their old art teacher from Spence who lost her job as a result of Gemma and her friends; Felicity's family has taken on a new ward which irritates Felicity, though perhaps not for entirely selfish reasons; and while it might be nice to see Pippa again, Gemma is uncertain whether Pippa can be trusted, as souls in the Realms who do not cross over are usually corrupted. Of all these, the last is the most interesting, as Bray seems to have no problem turning beautiful Pippa into a rather terrifying creature before the book is over.

So as you can see, there's a lot of balls in the air and Bray tries her best to keep them all going. I found that there were a few too many scenes that didn't seem that necessary. One of which involved Gemma dressing up as a boy to pull her father out of an opium den. Perhaps the most irritating scene of all, though, took place at a ball when Simon persuades Gemma and her friends into trying absinthe... which unsurprisingly has a bad effect on Gemma, who already sees visions of ghostly things without any aid from substances. Exactly why we needed a scene where she starts screaming and Simon tries to calm her down, under the belief that she's screaming because of his rather forward behavior, I do not know. Nor do I know why Simon seems totally fine with her afterward, as I would imagine he'd be a little put off. Ultimately, however, I suppose the worst sin is that despite being a fantasy novel, I found that once again, I simply didn't find myself captivated by the Realms. All the fantasy and magic seemed too vague and not quite interesting for me. Ann is annoying, Felicity is a bit too brazen (though really, she's the one I mind least), and Gemma still doesn't seem like she's a heroine who is capable of bringing any kind of resolution to the Realms and the Order. She's not terribly bright and I still can't imagine her as being a proper redhead. And as if that wouldn't make her stand out enough, she has the whole childhood in India thing going for her and she still manages to be this shrinking violet. Ugh.

Despite all this, we know perfectly well that I'll finish the series, but I wish that I could hope for something better than the first two novels. Ah well.

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