I really wanted to enjoy this one. It’s set in a time period that I’m quite fond of. It should have been something that I was absolutely thrilled to read. It had magic in a mystique sort of way. it had propriety, but it just never worked for me. It was part character, part lacksidasical plot, and part isolation that left me constantly wanting more that I never got.
Let’s start with the characters. Gemma Doyle is annoying. She’s brazen, she’s blunt, and she’s only not popular because she doesn’t want to be. Other than her troubled past, and what she can do, she feels like the kind of person I wouldn’t want to be around for too long. The person you casually speak to for a few minutes then go about your day. I just never liked her. Mainly because she didn’t seem to have a whole not of personality other than rebel. If her rebellion was paired with more common sense it would have been better. Instead, Gemma makes foolish decision after foolish decision. The fact that she was told not to do things by multiple people didn’t seem to resonate with her. Thus it was frustrating just to spend time with her. Even more frustrating when you realized she was going to do said stupid thing, before she even did stupid thing.
The other characters were fleshed out well enough. They had wants, desires and problems. They felt like real people you could encounter, but still I found myself not really liking anyone there either. Yes, they felt real, but I just didn’t like them. The one character I felt was shafted was Kartik. He was probably the only character I was genuinely intrigued by, but we got so little of him and even less development that I wished we had more of him. As probably the most interesting character we didn’t get to know him nearly enough, leaving him as much of a mystery at the end of the book as he was at the first introduction and not in the sense that there are new questions now. Just none of the ones from the beginning were answered.
Next up, the plot or lack thereof. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. However, my big problem was that I didn’t know where the story was going. I’m not saying that I simply felt misdirected, but that I simply couldn’t nail down the story. Even now after having read the whole story, I don’t think I could concisely sum it up without it feeling either shallow or convoluted. What it came off to me as more of a character study as you went through life with Gemma Doyle as she learned more about what she could do. Things happened, but I still don’t get the point. There are many stories that do this. However, the key with having a story like that where the plot is secondary works best when you feel invested in the characters. As I’ve already mentioned, I just never really liked the characters. Which is probably why it took me more than a month to read this book.
The final issue I had with this books was the setting. As far as the time period, as I said I quite liked it. The characters seemed to fit well into that world. Their priorities and the stances people took on things made sense. The problem was that I never got to get a good sense of the world like I had hoped. Because this is set at Gemma’s boarding school which is in the country, we don’t get much of the hustle of city life. Heck, we don’t get much sense of the setting at all. Aside from the character interactions (by way of priorities and communication) I didn’t get a good sense of the era. It made me feel distant and not swept up in the world. With some aesthetic changes this could have easily been set in a more modern time, which made the time period not feel essential to the story.
Overall, I just didn’t enjoy this book, but it was well written. Libba Bray can certainly write. While I didn’t like the characters at all, I have to give credit that they were well developed (save for the one character I actually wanted to see more of).