For example, the character of Kartik saw a nearly 180-degree shift from who Bray presented in the first book. Instead of being withdrawn, mysterious, and slightly rude to Gemma, the Kartik in Rebel Angels was suave, childishly eager to please, humorous, and apparently besotted. Say what? But then, when it suited the author’s purposes, Kartik would revert back to his other self. In this book he was a complete yo-yo character, and I felt that he was just this shallow name on paper that had no point. This novel is strong enough without a romantic interest, so Kartik’s little thing with Gemma felt like a badly done add-on.
Other than the Kartik issue, my problem with this book was characterization in general. Outwardly, Gemma and the gang are complex, intricate character. But really, on closer observation I feel like they have no substance. Their actions are entertaining and engrossing, but I don’t feel that these people are real. I could never meet Gemma in real life, and Ann and Felicity wouldn’t work out, either. Honestly, if you took the Mean Girls crew and put them in Victorian England with some magic, you’d have the characters in this book.
I didn’t hate the characters, though. I just wanted more from them. There’s a difference.
But boy, oh boy was the magic really awesome in Rebel Angels. Probably my biggest complaint from A Great and Terrible Beauty was that the realms played so teensy of a role. The concept was so amazing, but Bray hardly explored it. In this book, at least half was spent inside the realms, and it was fabulous. This series is such a standout compared to all other piece of paranormal fiction; I have seriously never read (or heard of) anything like this. I love the raw, unconstrained magic—it’s just so cool, seriously.
And though I’m not wholly impressed with characters, I do love that Gemma and Company are dealing with things besides just magic. Libba Bray isn’t afraid to bring up important issues like child abuse and self-harm outside of a realistic fiction novel. It added another facet to this piece.
Altogether, I thought Rebel Angels was better all around than A Great and Terrible Beauty. In fact it was so good and so different that it didn’t really fit with the pre-existing trend. So it looks like Libba Bray outclassed herself too much here, almost.