The Sweet Far Thing: A messy ending

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray YA fantasy book reviewsThe Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

The Sweet Far Thing is the final book in Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy about four girls at a boarding school in Victorian England. Gemma has inherited a magic that allows her to cross over to the Realms, the fantasy world that’s the source of her magic. She and her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann have been trying to keep the magic safe from people who might use it to unleash horrors upon the real world, yet Gemma has promised to share the magic with the people who have helped her so far. In this book she must figure out how to do both of those things at the same time.

As The Sweet Far Thing begins, Gemma and Felicity are getting ready to finish school and enter genteel society where eventually they’ll be expected to take on the roles of wives and mothers. Ann will suffer a worse fate — she is to be the governess for a wealthy cousin’s brats. All three girls feel powerless, which is why they sometimes use the magic for both noble and selfish purposes. It’s easy to see how they could be seduced by the power of the magic.

As the girls are contemplating their futures, the East Wing of Spence Academy, which burned down twenty years ago when Gemma’s mother lived there, is being rebuilt. An old gypsy woman who lives in the woods tries to warn the workers and the headmistress that rebuilding the wing will open our world to evil powers. Meanwhile, when Gemma and friends visit the Realms, they find that Pippa, who now lives there, is acting strangely. In fact, everyone is acting a little strange and Gemma has no idea who she can trust. Alliances are shifting, people she thought were friends turn out to be enemies, and vice versa.

In my opinion, The Sweet Far Thing is a mess. I liked this series best when it dealt with the mundane world of Victorian England and the way that three young girls struggled with their lack of power in their society. Bray does a nice job with that part. When she brings in the magical elements, however, everything becomes nebulous and unstructured and, unfortunately, most of this long (way too long) book is about the fight over the magic of the Realms. When we visit there, I never feel grounded. It’s not clear what Gemma and others can and can’t do with the magic, why Gemma sometimes chooses to use the magic and sometimes doesn’t, who can and can’t use it, and what the rules are for its use. Also, we’re never sure until the end who’s on which side and people seem to keep changing sides and motives, at least in Gemma’s mind. I wasn’t sure why some important things happened the way they did or why Gemma’s friends were sometimes being so immature and disloyal. There are other specific plot elements that really didn’t work, but mentioning them would give away some of the plot’s twists. I’ll just say that I was never convinced about anything that was happening. I felt that way for hours as Gemma wallowed in confusion and indecision for hundreds of pages before finally dragging the story to an unpleasant and unsatisfying (but merciful) ending.

Though the GEMMA DOYLE series started off well enough with A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels, they don’t stand alone and they are not good enough to justify reading this insufferable ending. The audiobooks I read were brilliantly narrated by Josephine Bailey, but even her gorgeous voice couldn’t make me enjoy The Sweet Far Thing. Therefore, I just can’t recommend this series.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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