To be honest, when I began this book I wasn’t sure I would finish it. I wasn’t a very big fan of the narrator or Gemma for that matter. It also took me some time to get used to the fact that it was in present tense. I’m glad I didn’t stop listening though because it really grew on me. As the plot thickened I was drawn in and couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve never really read any fiction about witchcraft, unless you count the Harry Potter books. I don’t really count those since they are in their own world. This story is different, and unique in my opinion, which I admit may not amount to much because of my limited knowledge of witchcraft literature.
A very obvious theme of this book is female power. The Victorian society these girls are brought up in doesn’t allow them any power. Instead, they are put in a place of submission. They must obey the laws of gentility and learn to become suitable wives and mothers. The power the girls find in the Realms makes the their oppressive future seem even more depressing. Why would you choose to live that way when you are able to wield such power? But how far can one go in search of power before they’ve crossed the line? This is the problem of power, and it devours the power-hungry (characters like Felicity).
That fact that the novel is set Victorian England only makes the power of the magic more frustrating. It’s something they will never be able to experience in their lives as dainty housewives. This only increases the conflict of the plot, which I think is a good thing. It keeps the reader interested. The girls find their “place” in society unjust and are sick of being told how to act. They have the minds of true feminists, ready to rise above the men holding them back. Gemma makes this apparent when she snaps on Kartik about the Rakshana’s orders.
What kind of young-adult fiction would this be without a little sexual tension? And boy is it tense between Gemma and Kartik. I half expect one of them to pounce on the other in every scene they have together. But alas, they live in times of propriety and what a scandal it would be if young Gemma was caught in the arms of a foreigner. Let me just say, this is the type of thing that makes me giggle when reading (or listening to) young-adult fiction. It’s the kind of thing that keeps hormonal teenage girls reading. Trust me, I was a teenage girl only a few years ago. I was the same way. Thankfully, Bray doesn’t get too carried away with it. I find it much more tasteful to hint at what the characters want rather than relay the intensity of the actual act in this type of book.
I will commend the author for the fact that the story is both character-driven and plot-driven, not one or the other. The characters develop from some of the very sobering situations they find themselves in. At the same time, the plot has a good, steady pace and doesn’t threaten to bore the reader to tears.