Review: Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

Book Reviews

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray   

Publication Date: August 2005

Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books

Library Copy

Overall Grade: 4 out of 5 stars (****)

In this sequel to the Victorian fantasy A Great and Terrible Beauty, Gemma continues to pursue her role as the one destined to bind the magic of the Realms and restore it to the Order–a mysterious group who have been overthrown by a rebellion. Gemma, Felicity and Ann, (her girlfriends at Spence Academy for Young Ladies), use magical power to transport themselves on visits from their corseted world to the visionary country of the Realms, with its strange beauty and menace. There they search for the lost Temple, the key to Gemma’s mission, and comfort Pippa, their friend who has been left behind in the Realms. After these visits they bring back magical power for a short time to use in their own world. Meanwhile, Gemma is torn between her attraction to the exotic Kartik, the messenger from the opposing forces of the Rakshana, and the handsome but clueless Simon, a young man of good family who is courting her. The complicated plot thickens when Gemma discovers a woman in Bedlam madhouse who knows where to find the Temple; Ann shows signs of being enamored of Gemma’s loutish brother Tom, and their father’s addiction to laudanum lands him in an opium den. A large part of the enjoyment of this unusual fantasy comes from the Victorian milieu and its restrictive rules about the behavior of proper young ladies, as contrasted with the unimaginable possibilities of the Realms, where Gemma has power to confront gorgons and ghosts and the responsibility to save a world.

Synopsis courtesy of


I am a great fan of Libba Bray’s debut novel “A Great and Terrible Beauty”—a sweeping Gothic tale full of intrigue and secrets at a prestigious English boarding school.

Needless to say, I had high hopes for the companion novel, Rebel Angels. I wasn’t entirely disappointed. The tension and plot was definitely on par. He tension between Gemma and Kartik when Kartik’s true mission is revealed. The addition of Simon Middleton should have been a monkey wrench between Gemma and Kartik, but instead he was reduced to a mediocre subplot. The only thing Rebel Angels lacked was the dark, mysterious Tim Burton-esque mood that had me hooked on the story.

Regardless, Libba Bray is a master at description and prose. Several times she would describe the thunderstorm outside Gemma’s window, or how the fireplace crackled, and my auditory senses picked up on the unique narration in an unusual way. I was startled when I thought I truly heard those sound, too.

I will eagerly devour the final book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy “The Sweet Far Thing”, and hope that the wonderful, dark mood returns in that one.

2 thoughts on “Review: Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

  1. Of the three books in this series, I thought A Great and Terrible Beauty was the best. Great story, great setting, characters, mood…lovely. It actually could have been a stand-alone novel. It will be interesting to see what you think of The Sweet Far Thing.

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