The Sweet Far Thing, probably, could stand to lose 200-300 pages. The middle sections grow tedious with the back-and-forth between Gemma and the tribes in the realms. Who gets the magic? Is Gemma lying? How can they trust each other? On and on it goes for 500 pages. Add in a few fairly unrelated adventures such as Gemma’s “rivalry” with an American heiress and Felicity and Ann’s struggles to be themselves. It was, honestly, too much, and it was only Bray’s astounding skill and creativity that kept me reading.
Libba Bray’s prose is really quite amazing. It’s powerful, compelling, completely engaging, and addicting. I’ve never read anything quite like it. I think it says something when an author’s skill with words can effectively mask flaws and give readers the illusion of perfection. I mean, there were times when I almost liked Gemma Doyle in this book, and believe you me that would be a hard task to accomplish.
Another big selling point in this book is world-building, setting, and creativity. In the second book, Rebel Angels, readers finally got to fully experience the magic of the realms, and I knew that in this book Bray was going to have to maintain that experience. Luckily, she did, and she did it quite well. I love the realms. I love the fantasy/paranormal creatures and elements incorporated into this series. I love Bray’s originality in concept and execution of premise. It’s completely amazing.
One thing I do have to say, though, is that while The Sweet Far Thing has a lot of surface appeal, it doesn’t go as deep as I would like. This has been a consistent problem with the series, though I think that in many respects, this book is a huge improvement over A Great and Terrible Beauty. Perhaps it’s because the story is so far outside of any traditional idea of paranormal YA. It outclasses itself.
My biggest problem, and it is also a recurring issue, is the romance. Well, first off, I really think this book would be just as strong without the romance aspect, as is evidenced by the way Bray wrapped things up—i.e. no eternal vows of love. Kartik, as a character, was kept as so much of an enigma that I had to wonder what Gemma saw in him besides his physical appearance. One minute he’s a jerk, the next he’s making jokes, then he’s taking off Gemma’s clothes, then he’s laughing like a little boy. Bray was not at all consistent with who Kartik was or what his role was supposed to be. It definitely felt forced, like Bray felt she had to include a love interest because, duh, YA Rules & Regulations command it to be so. Yeah, maybe Kartik served a purpose at the very end, but his role could just as easily have been taken on by any other character.
But gosh dang, the end was flawless. I am admittedly a complete sucker for endings that are sad, upsetting, depressing. The final 50 pages of The Sweet Far Thing were so beautiful and so balanced between despair and hope, I couldn’t handle myself. Holy cow. Now, I’d been spoiled for this ending already, but nobody can really portray that ending like Libba Bray can. I didn’t want to read this book because of the ending, but really, the only reason to read this book is because of the ending.
Altogether, The Sweet Far Thing was my favorite Gemma Doyle book. Because of this series, this author has a special place on my favorites shelf. With her massively strong prose, her phenomenal creativity, and her heartbreaking conclusion, Libba Bray won me over even when I didn’t want to be won. Hats off to her!