Book Review: Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle #2) by Libba Bray

An amazing continuation of the Gemma Doyle series with creepy paranormal elements and even stronger characters.

4/5 stars

cover rebel angels

synopsis for reviews 2

Ah, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain…

The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.

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my thoughts for reviews 1

Rereading this series was honestly so much fun. I love knowing that the books that blew me away when I was younger are still impressive, even after I’ve read hundreds more books.

The defining characteristic of these books is the idea of imperfection. If you like stories where the characters make the right decisions and everything fits together nicely…this isn’t your book. But honestly, imperfection is so much more interesting.

Gemma and her friends are as imperfect as always in this book. They have the power to bring magic into the real world and they use it to make their lives better, even if it’s an illusion. It’s somewhat frustrating to read, because as the reader you know that magic won’t solve their problems, but I have to admit, I would do exactly the same thing in their place.

We get to see Gemma’s character grow more. She is trying to be a better person, taking on responsibilities in the realm and being a nicer daughter in the real world, but she cannot get over her jealousies and fears completely. She has magic, and she’s a teenage girl, and she’d rather have everything seem perfect than have to deal with life’s imperfections. I don’t blame her for her weaknesses, though, because her character is written so vividly that I could feel exactly what emotions drove her to make her choices.

Ann’s character becomes a larger part of the story in Rebel Angels. Her dreams of being accepted into rich society come true—with magic, of course—and it reveals fascinating parts of her character. As with Gemma, Ann has her pettiness and her fears, but they are portrayed so well that I understand her instead of hating her.

The realms become more sinister in this book, no longer the flowering garden that Gemma discovered. Pippa returns to the story, giving the plot creepy, uncertain undertones. Dead but alive, Pippa brings both joy and fear to the plot, and Gemma’s distrust of her threatens the group dynamic.

Gemma’s new task in the realms is to find the Temple, where she can bind the magic and restore order to the realms. New visions and a friendship with an insane girl named Nell help Gemma on her search while keeping the reader on their toes, uncertain of who they can trust. The search for the Temple is a good mystery that adds suspense and terror to the plot.

As with the first book, however, Rebel Angels is about more than the realms. Gemma’s life in the real world is just as important a part of the story as her quest in the realms. I loved that Gemma leaves Spence for the winter holiday; this changed the focus of the story from her education to her place in polite society and showed a different side of Gemma. She is simultaneously desperate to be accepted and disgusted with the society.

Her courtship of Simon Middleton was one of my favorite parts of the book. More than just a love interest, Simon represents a crossroads for Gemma, forcing her to choose between being the Good Girl and being herself. Simon’s own imperfections are an interesting commentary on rape culture—something I missed the first time I read this series but that I appreciate now.

Gemma’s father’s addiction is a major part of this book. The plot line is unforgiving and painful, showing Gemma the worst side of her family right when she wants nothing more than for everything to be perfect. These scenes were some of the most emotional ones of the whole book.

My only complaint about this book would be that it is a little long. It is paced well, but that pacing is a long walk to the climax. I love that the length of the story allows every character to develop and every subplot to be complex, but it also makes the book a little slow at times.

I would recommend Rebel Angels to anyone who read A Great and Terrible Beauty. The story gets creepier and realer, destroying the few remaining niceties that existed in Gemma’s life. The combination of paranormal and historical plot lines makes this series unique and a must-read.

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