It hadn't occurred to me until it was mentioned in the book, but this trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, The Rebel Angels) takes place over the course of a single year. Phew. That's a whole lot of adventure in a short amount of time, in AND out of the realms.
In this, the last installment:
Realm-side: Gemma promised the tribes of the realms an alliance in which she would share the magic with them, but as time passes she has become less and less sure that it will be a wise move -- and they are growing impatient with her stalling. Also, she, Felicity and Ann have reunited with Pippa, who has still not crossed over (to wherever the dead go).
Spence-side: Though Gemma has bound the magic of the realms to herself, the Order and the Rakshana have not stopped trying to control her (and through her, of course, the magic). The East Wing is being rebuilt, despite the warnings of the local gypsies. Kartik seems to be missing. And of course, her non-realms-related life has continued: her father is about to be released from the sanitarium, her brother and her grandmother are as difficult as always, and the date of her debut into society approaches.
If Felicity's debut doesn't happen -- which is looking more and more likely -- she won't come into her inheritance, she will be in her horrible father's power forever, and she will be unable to save his young ward from the same fate. If Ann doesn't find a way to break into acting, to make her own way in the world, she will be doomed to a life of servitude, working as a governess for her cousin's family. They are relying on Gemma to change their futures.
In both worlds Gemma's visions are coming with faster and stronger -- she sees, again and again, the words "The Tree of All Souls lives". Unfortunately, she has no idea what that means.
It was more slow-building for me than the first two books in the series -- I read a hundred pages here, a hundred pages there... and then I blew through the last 600 yesterday. I'd look up occasionally and be shocked to find that two hours had passed. Two hours in which I hadn't moved at all except to turn pages.
As with the first two books, I tended to prefer the scenes outside of the realms more than those within (I do think that's due to personal taste rather than to unevenness -- in other words, it's my thing, not the author's). There were quite a few twists I saw coming -- some that I'd been waiting for since the first book -- but there were also some that totally, totally surprised me. There was one in particular that shocked shocked shocked me, but upon reflection, I realized that it kind of had to happen. Kind of. I guess.
While it's certainly possible to read it solo (thanks to Chapter Four: A Review of Everything That Came Before (which was very helpful, as I read Book Two in 2006)), I'd still recommend starting from the beginning. A brief review can only tell you so much, you know? Victorian-era boarding school story, secret societies, a bit of steamy* and forbidden romance, family troubles, corruption and redemption and girl power -- I might have to invest in paperback copies because they're perfect bathtub books.
I finished it yesterday afternoon and then spent the rest of the day in a funk. I'm not quite sure if my mood was a result of a turn the story took, or simply because it's all over. Probably both. I really hadn't realized how attached I'd become to these girls.
*Libba Bray, you are really good at steamy. Yowza.