The Sweet Far Thing

Well, it's over. The Sweet Far Thing is the last in this trilogy of books by Libba Bray that depict young women in Victorian England with access to magical realms (creatively called "the realms") and yet don't have any idea what to do with this magic, so they spend three books trying to figure that out while dodging all adult advice/manipulation. Of course, just because it's the last book doesn't mean that it's a fast conclusion. Oh no. You've got 819 pages to savor the end of the series. It's Harry Potter proportions... only I haven't found this series to be anywhere near as compelling.

Here's the thing. It's the third book, so if you've made it through the first two, it means that you either (a) love these books and so you're excited or (b) are like me and have an obsessive need to finish what you've begun. Either way, you're probably going to read it, having made it this far, so I don't feel like I need to sell anyone on this.

Gemma is still seventeen, in her last few months attending Spence's boarding school for young ladies, and she's still trying to decide what to do with this power she's been given -- and everyone else is quick to demand that she hand it over. The Order, the Rakshana, Circe... yes, I know that Gemma thought she killed her in book two, but as you know if you've read these books, people who have been killed aren't nearly as dead as they should be when the realms are concerned. Pippa, who was already lost to the realms, is now assured that she's certainly stuck there and her own sense of self-importance is fanned by a coterie of adoring girls (victims of a factory fire also stuck in this limbo) who might not be cultured, but worship Pip. Circe is still somehow present in the realms' temple and all too easily works her way into Gemma's confidence. (Um, Gemma? This woman is responsible for your mom's death. Remember that?) And then there's Amar, the brother of Gemma's love interest, Kartik, and member of the Rakshana. He's prowling around as a corrupted being like Pippa and he seems to be commanding an army of Winterlands creatures in a bid to keep the magic for their own use. How are the mighty fallen.

Of course, Gemma has to come a long way before she realizes that curtsying correctly for her presentation to Queen Victoria is not exactly something she can compare with all the difficult decisions ahead. It's too easy for Gemma to use magic for her own purposes... whether that's making her family a little happier or making herself seem more powerful and wanted by Simon to upset his father, a member of the Rakshana. Sure, she's a teenager, but even she should know better by this point. When it comes down to the big decisions, a lot of them are made off the cuff, without much forethought. Spur of the moment things that are meant to show bravery or somesuch nonsense, but really just seem to suggest that no one can think ahead.

Suffice to say that since this is the last book, we finally have some resolutions about things. The Felicity/Pippa connection (if you haven't figured out that they're not just friends by now, then I'm not sure that you actually read the previous two books) is built up to this huge unveiling, but since that seemed obvious, it was a bit annoying... and particularly annoying is Fee's absolute conviction in her inclinations. Being only a teenager at this time period, I should think that she would still be figuring it all out as opposed to being so convinced of her orientation. Those looking for Gemma and Kartik to finally get together should feel pleased... for a few minutes. Kartik's utter devotion to Gemma might seem unrealistic, but given the out-of-the-ordinary circumstances that unite them, I accepted it as sweet and chivalrous, because at least you knew he had struggled with his decisions. Though the fact that they get together before we're close to the finale should be your first indication that nothing can end well. It did, however, annoy me that Bray settled on the path that allows their love (which could probably never exist in the real world outside the realms, given the time period) but takes the easy way out as far as resolutions go. Ultimately, I have a hard time seeing how all this trouble can be attributed to anything but Gemma's inability to make up her mind and part with her powers. She acts much younger than her age, particularly given how most everyone else around her seems capable of rising to their challenges. She may be the narrator and thus, the one we are supposed to identify with and root for, but my sympathy for Gemma only goes so far.

As for the writing, I feel as though Bray isn't quite where she needs to be. She moves much too quickly through her descriptions, particularly as it concerns the action. It's as though she assumed by writing quickly, we'd hurry through it and the only important part, really, is the outcome so we'll focus on that instead. And that's an odd feeling to have... for eight hundred or so pages. Even three lengthy books didn't seem enough to encompass an adequate description of this fantasy world that Bray created. I would have preferred a storyline much more compact in its scope and more detail about the realms. Or if epic was the objective, then something else needed to give way. I felt as though very few decisions were made... which rather makes me equate Gemma with Libba Bray in that sense.

If you enjoyed the series up to now, you'll probably still like it because you're predisposed to such a decision. If you're on the fence, then I think you might be swayed towards annoyance. I do appreciate Bray's expansive imagination that allows for such fantastic creations, but ultimately I think she needs to learn that writing is about making choices... which seems to be the lesson that she's trying to teach Gemma throughout this trilogy, so it would be a good one to take to heart.

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