Readergirlz Roundtable: The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
Welcome to the readergirlz roundtable! Today, we're discussing A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing, Libba Bray's three exquisite Victorian novels featuring the risk-taking Gemma Doyle. Join us!
Lorie Ann Grover: Welcome to the table, ladies. Let's chat!
Dia Calhoun: Byron could have penned his immortal line, "all that's best of dark and bright" in praise of Libba Bray's The Sweet Far Thing. For in this fantasy novel, the dark and bright powers limning Gemma's passage from girl to woman enthrall the reader's heart from beginning to end.
Lorie Ann Grover: Dia said it so beautifully. Is that not perfect? So, let's go through the door and enter the realms! *shivers*
Little Willow: What did you think of the time and place? Do you enjoy stories set in Victorian England as much as I do?
Melissa Walker: I love this setting! The juxtaposition of proper Victorian England with a wild and supernatural world is perfect for the tempestuous teenage years. I also loved how many "proper" people were involved in both worlds, and the commentary on class and status as well.
HipWriterMama: I don't often read books set in Victorian England. Once I do, I wonder why I don't more often. Libba Bray did a wonderful job building this world--Melissa says it so well.
Holly Cupala: Yes! It reminds me a bit of the historical romances my grandmother used to read, though with the added intrigue of the realms. Jane Austen could never have imagined it so well!
Lorie Ann Grover: I love reading about Victorian England! The society is primed for a good female struggle for voice and independence.
Dia Calhoun: Ever since I read The Secret Garden I have enjoyed novels set in Victorian England. And are not the realms a kind of secret garden? Though with delicious dangers. But I think there is something always hidden and secret in such a strict world.
Little Willow: I love The Secret Garden! I can definitely see the Realms as a secret garden of sorts, Dia. I love stories in which the main character goes through a portal and finds herself/himself otherwhere. In fact, many of my favorite fantasy novels travel to magical lands: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende, Strangewood by Christopher Golden, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I also love the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, which was selected by the postergirlz and divas to be listed in this month's recommended reads. I would love to travel to Wonderland or Fantastica (called Fantasia in the TNES films) as well as the Realms in Gemma's stories. What are your favorite other realms?
Holly Cupala: I loved The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende - one of my all-time favorite reads, Little Willow! I first read it at age nine on a camping trip with my cousins - not that I actually did any camping, only reading. I finished it in the middle of the night and cried because I didn't want it to end! I've probably read it a dozen times since. Note: the movie doesn't compare to the book, especially the one printed in red and green.
(Little Willow rejoices over Holly's response.)
Lorie Ann Grover: You know what came instantly to mind? Pern! I love Anne McCaffrey's Pern. Does that count?
Dia Calhoun: I would like to travel to Daria, I think it is called, in Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. And Middle Earth, of course. But I'd like to have some kind of magical powers to help me deal with the darker elements always found in other realms. Aren't many of these other realms really stand-ins for the subconscious world?
Little Willow: I think so. I am also a sucker for books set in boarding schools. Are any of you? I never attended such a school, but that coupled with the time period, the location, AND the supernatural elements all intrigued me.
Holly Cupala: The idea of boarding school is so intriguing, though I did attend a small private school where everyone knew everything about every moment of your life and imagine that boarding school would be something like that (the panopticon, to bring in a theme from another boarding school book!). However, authors like Libba and John Green and E. Lockhart and Rachel Cohn all make them seem rife with possibilities. That sort of environment could be a crucible for all kinds of experiences.
Dia Calhoun: Yes, I too, have always loved the idea of boarding school, thought I imagine the reality might be quite different. When I got to Mills College--a small liberal arts women's college--living in the dorms where we all had private rooms and sit down candlelight dinners on Wednesdays was very much like a boarding school in some ways. And I did love that! I think any kind of environment where you bring a small group of people together is excellent for fictional possibilities. I want Felicity's tent!
Lorie Ann Grover: I don't want Felicity's tent, Dia! I was ALWAYS worried people could overhear through the cloth. Do you know how when you think you have privacy and you don't? I've never had a boarding school experience. But I could imagine living at Hogwarts! Or having Snape as my headmaster. Oh, my. Holly, I may need a photo here. :~)
Little Willow: (singing) Snape, Snape, Severus Snape! (normal voice) Would you like to have visions like Gemma?
Lorie Ann Grover: No visions for me! I have a plethora of information to deal with without them.
Melissa Walker: I would not want this power. It comes with such great responsibility that I'd feel more burdened than magical, I fear.
Holly Cupala: That would depend for me on the purpose and origins of the visions. Occasionally I dream that I am supposed to say something to someone, or do something, or I dream in symbols about situations or events. Some dreams I wouldn't want to come true. Wisdom and discernment would be important gifts to come alongside visions.
Little Willow: Consider the dark times that Gemma and other "visionary" fictional characters, such TV's Cordelia Chase and Johnny Smith from The Dead Zone, went through physically and emotionally. If this vision talent permitted only good visions, their stories would be so different from what they were.
Dia Calhoun: I think the power of visions would be a very uncomfortable power -- as it is for Gemma. If one could control them--designate when they come and when they end--that would be more bearable, but Gemma cannot do that. Think of Cassandra. Very unpleasant to know the future tragedy and be unable to change the future. Sometimes I have little visionary moments when I am working on a novel -- a different kind of vision -- but very rewarding.
Little Willow: Would you like to have any of the other girls' powers?
HipWriterMama: Every once in awhile, it would be nice to have some extra powers, especially if I could use them to help my family and friends. However, can you imagine the problems? Who do you tell? Do you keep this a secret? What kind of expectations would people have if they knew of your power?
Dia Calhoun: Imagine if the government found out you had powers. Instant, unwilling guinea pig. I would love to have the power to fall asleep at will!
Lorie Ann Grover: Well, Gorgon had some pretty kickin' powers. I can see myself as Gorgon.
Little Willow: Bring Pegasus to our next roundtable, please, Lorie Ann, so that we may take flight. I'll teach him how to read! Back to serious matters: What makes Gemma a readergirl?
Melissa Walker: Gemma reacts to her world, but she also thinks critically about what's happening to her, and that combo makes her a great readergirl.
Holly Cupala: Read, reflect, reach out - exactly, Melissa! (laughing)
Little Willow: That's our motto! I agree with both of you. She was found her strengths and was daring when need be.
Holly Cupala: She doesn't just sit by idly, but instead learns from her own and others' experiences, then takes action.
Lorie Ann Grover: And she admits her weaknesses. She looks in her dark corners and marches on. Perfect answer, Holly!
Dia Calhoun: And because she loves Jane Austen!
Little Willow: Who was your favorite main character?
Dia Calhoun: I really liked Ann, as the odd woman out, as the underdog with a burning ambition and with the desire to change her bleak future. She seemed more sympathetic to Gemma than Felicity, more understanding and compassionate.
Holly Cupala: How about Kartik? I found the parallel secret societies, his goals versus hers, and the conflict of duty and personal wishes to be fascinating. Plus in my mind, he kind of looks like my sweetheart. :)
Lorie Ann Grover: I knew you'd say that, Holly. :~)
Little Willow: Ditto!
Holly Cupala: I'm so transparent!? (Hi, Honey!!)
Lorie Ann Grover: Hm. Counting only the girls? And Kartik? I'd have to go with Kartik.
Melissa Walker: Ooh, yes, I did adore Kartik. And now I will picture him as Holly's husband.
Holly Cupala: Okay, now I'm really laughing, since we all just met you in person!
Little Willow: Who was your favorite supporting character?
Melissa Walker: I loved Felicity! She had such spirit and conviction and spunky love inside her. Even when she pulled away from Gemma, I felt her fierce affection for her friends.
Holly Cupala: I liked Felicity, too. What I really admired about Libba's writing is that she was able to make the characters so complex - not always likeable, not always good.
Lorie Ann Grover: I love Mrs. Nightwing! She doesn't have magical powers, but she has that staunch English character and one amazing bustle.
Melissa Walker: I do love a good bustle!
Little Willow: Speaking of fashion pieces we love, I love how Gemma is depicted on the covers of this series. I read A Great and Terrible Beauty as soon as it was released, then hand-sold it like crazy. I talked it up to every customer I thought might like it, and it became a top bestseller in my store that season! I spoke not only of the beautiful writing and settings, but also of the friendships. What bonded the girls together?
Dia Calhoun: Being thrown into unusual situations created a bonding among Ann, Felicity, and Gemma. Shared secrets, shared experiences, and the magic of course.
Lorie Ann Grover: Well said, Dia. I'd add that they are three girls searching for their place outside of their circumstances.
Little Willow: Which book in the trilogy is your favorite? Do you want more in the line?
Dia Calhoun: My favorite is The Sweet Far Thing. I think this book finds Libba Bray in full power.
Lorie Ann Grover: I would guess it's The Sweet Far Thing. Certainly it must contain all of Libba's skills at their height! It's been awhile since I read the first two. It is always delightful to meet new characters though in a first book. I shall have to go back and see which I prefer. Yet maybe I'll choose to keep the works as one in my mind. One grand epic. I could read more if Libba continued, but I also have a firm sense of completion. As long as Kartik keeps appearing in her dreams...
Holly Cupala: I think probably A Great and Terrible Beauty. The power, the passion...her courage will change the world...oh, wait, I think that's from something else. ;)
Little Willow: Have you read Libba's other works? I give her two thumbs up for her short story Primate the Prom, which appeared in the anthology 21 Proms, and her new novel Going Bovine is in my to-read pile.
Dia Calhoun: I have not yet had that privilege.
HipWriterMama: I'm looking forward to reading Going Bovine, especially after watching her video. It's pretty amusing.
Little Willow: Absolutely hilarious.
Holly Cupala: I remember her talking about Going Bovine when she came through Seattle with Shannon Hale, and I've wanted to read it ever since. Quite a departure, and Libba is hilarious! I'm glad she's having a chance to show that in her work.
Lorie Ann Grover: I'm on page 4 of Going Bovine. Laughed all the way through her acknowledgments alone! This is going to be a grand month as we host Libba. I can't wait to walk through the Realms with the author herself!
Dia Calhoun: Do you think Kartik will show at the chat!!!
Holly Cupala: Hmm, I could ask him. ;-)
Little Willow: That reminds me: Have you all watched the trailer for A Great and Terrible Beauty? It's fantastic! I wish I knew the names of the actors; I think they did a great job. The book has also been optioned for film. As far as I know, it's still in pre-production and no one has been cast just yet. I'd love to audition for the project. (Holly, should we pre-cast your husband as Kartik?)
Lorie Ann Grover: Who would I want to play? Gorgon or Nightwing. Yep! Okay, off we go!
Melissa Walker: I want to be Gemma, Gemma, Gemma! I think she shines. But I might be a little old. Realistically, I could have fun being Circe!
Little Willow: I hope the screenwriter(s) stick closely to the original story and dialogue.
Dia Calhoun: One final thought for authors: This book is a masterpiece of pacing. The way the suspense is drawn out, the clues slowly revealed, I learned so much from that.
Visit readergirlz to learn more about our interactive book group.
Read the October 2009 issue to learn more about The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray.
Check out other roundtable book discussions at Bildungsroman.