Bibliographic Information: Bray. L. (2007). The sweet far thing. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 978-0-385-90295-3
Awards & Honors: Publishers Weekly Best Book; YALSA Top Ten
Plot Summary: The Sweet Far Thing concludes Libba Bray’s fantasy trilogy. It follows A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels, resolving the story of Gemma Doyle and her quest to balance the magical forces in the realms.
The story begins three years in the past on a London river which two men are dragging as they search for things of value that they plan to sell. What they dredge up is the corpse of a young woman in a lavender dress who wears an amulet that is a twin to the one Gemma’s mother gave her before she died.
Flash forward to Spence Academy, three years later, where Gemma finds she can no longer create a doorway to the realms. After much struggling, Gemma finds that by touching a mysterious stone unearthed during the reconstruction of the Spence’s east wing (which was destroyed in a terrible fire years before), she and her friends once again have access to the realms. There Gemma, Felicity, and Ann find Pippa among a group of girls she has saved from the Winterlands. These girls are commoners who died in a factory fire in London. Pippa is their leader and begins teaching them social graces, such as curtseying.
Kartik finds Gemma at Spence and tells her that they must no longer meet. He has enlisted as a sailor for the HMS Orlando to escape the Rakshana. Gemma is upset that he’s leaving; she has begun to fall in love. While waiting for his boat to come in, Kartik lives with gypsies in the woods surrounding Spence and helps Gemma arrange a meeting with the Rakshana who are trying to recruit Gemma’s brother, Tom, to their society as a way to get to Gemma. At this meeting an attempt is made to capture Gemma and Kartik and while the attempt is unsuccessful, it forces Gemma to reveal the fact that she does possess the magic she had sought to hide.
Gemma increasingly has mysterious visions of the drowned woman in the lavender dress. The visions give Gemma clues, which lead her to a washed-up illusionist who tells Gemma that the woman was a Spence student at the same time that Gemma’s mother was. Gemma also discovers that there is a powerful place of magic in the Winterlands realm, it is the Tree of All Souls. Gemma and her friends set out to find it.
Kartik asks Gemma to take him into the realms to see his brother, who was killed trying to protect Gemma’s mother in book one. When they arrive, they go to into the Cave of Sighs and have a psychic erotic experience together. After this, Kartik finds his brother and is horrified by the bloodthirsty creature he has become.
Gemma finds the realms unsafe as the creatures within them are discovering their powers and warring with one another. She refuses to bring Ann and Felicity over, angering them. However, they soon discover that they can now cross over without her help. She follows them into the realms and finds them visiting Pippa whose power has grown and is turning into a dark creature with megalomaniacal plans. Pippa attempts to kill Gemma and Felicity intervenes. It is then revealed that Pippa and Felicity are lovers. Pippa asks Felicity to eat the berries from the realm that will enable them to stay together forever. Felicity tearfully declines to do so and then Pippa is destroyed when the castle she lives in collapses in on her.
The magic’s release has broken the barrier between the realms and the human world and creatures from the realms begin crossing over with malicious intentions. They attempt to capture Gemma in order to sacrifice her to the Tree of Souls. She and her friends travel into the realms, as war rages between its inhabitants. When they arrive at the Tree of Souls, Kartik’s brother, who means to sacrifice her and cement his power, stabs Gemma. Kartik offers himself in her place and they kiss a final time before he is absorbed into the tree.
Gemma channels her magic back to the land and this reinstates the barrier between worlds. Order restored, Gemma leaves the realms and travels to America to study at university, forgoing her debut and rejecting the role her family planned for her as a society woman.
Critical Evaluation: The Sweet Far Thing is ambitious, successfully tying up dozens of plot threads in its 819 pages. While not as strong as the first book of the trilogy, A Great and Terrible Beauty, it still provides a satisfying conclusion to a fascinating story populated with a wide array of interesting characters of all sorts. Bray not only has produced a very engaging and enjoyable series with the Gemma Doyle trilogy, she has also tied in many historical social issues such as the suffragist movement, working conditions of the poor, and the asphyxiating confines of English women at the turn of the century.
Annotation: As Gemma prepares for her debut into society, she struggles with controlling the forces of evil in the realms and protecting the man she loves.
About the Author: Libba Bray is a Texas native who moved to New York City when she was 26 with $600 in her shoe and a punch bowl under her arm. Bray wrote her first story in the sixth grade and has been at it ever since. Bray eloped with her fiancée and was married in Florence, Italy. She and her husband live in New York City with their son (Bray, n.d.).
Bray has authored many books for young adults including Going Bovine for which she was given the Michael Printz Award and the Gemma Doyle trilogy: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing.
Bray, L. (n.d.). Biography: The straight-from-the-author-herself version. Retrieved from http://libbabray.com
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Adventure, Romance, Coming of Age
Curriculum Ties: English
Booktalking Ideas: Describe Gemma’s desire for personal liberation in the context of the time. Do you believe that social change such as the suffragist movement was instrumental in helping Gemma find her way?
Interest Age: 13 to 18 years old
Challenge Issues: Allusion to sex, implied homosexuality, magic, supernaturalism, and death. Gemma and Katik’s sexual encounter was mental and essentially chaste. It is not unusual for young adults to have sexual feelings and Bray’s interpretation of these is not irresponsible.
Felicity and Pippa’s lesbian relationship also appears to be an emotional rather than a physical one. There is no mention of consummation of their feelings aside from a kiss. It is true that Bray discloses that Felicity was molested by her father in book two and then reveals her to be a lesbian in book three, which may position lesbianism as a reaction to abuse, a view which would be contested by many.
Magic and the supernatural traditionally have much appeal for young readers and may serve to entice them to the worthwhile pursuit of reading. The deaths in the book are key to the plot as are the reactions to them. It is likely that young adults will have the experience of deaths in their own lives and the characters’ dealings with their own emotions in this may be helpful in that case.
Challengers should be referred to the library’s challenge and selection policies and can be reminded that it is the responsibility of parents, not librarians, to decide which materials are ultimately suitable for their children.
They should also be referred to the American Library Association’s Free Access to Libraries for Minors: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, which states, “Librarians and library governing bodies cannot assume the role of parents or the functions of parental authority in the private relationship between parent and child. Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that only parents and guardians have the right and the responsibility to determine their children’s—and only their children’s—access to library resources.” (ALA 2008, pp.1-2)
Challengers can also be provided with information about the awards, honors, and critical acclaim the title in question has received.
American Library Association. (Adopted June 30, 1972; amended July 1, 1981; July 3, 1991; June 30, 2004; July 2, 2008). Free access to libraries for minors: an interpretation of the library bill of rights. 1-2.
Reason for Inclusion: The Sweet Far Thing was included in this collection to complete the wonderful Gemma Doyle trilogy. Aside from the classic fantasy and adventure elements that have timeless appeal for young readers, these books investigate life choices and identity politics that young women have always faced whether they lived in the late 1800′s or today.