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Literature / Gemma Doyle

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I run after her, not really giving chase. I'm running because I can, because I must. Because I want to see how far I can go before I have to stop.

Gemma Doyle is a redheaded English lass living in India in 1895, until she turns sixteen and her mother's past finally catches up with the Doyle family. Gemma is subsequently sent to Spence, a finishing school back in England, where she is about to find out just how much of her mother's daughter she really is.

Gemma's story is told in a trilogy of young adult novels by American author Libba Bray: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. A movie was in the works but was axed.

These novels provide examples of:

  • Accidental Pervert: When the girls go Skinny Dipping, Kartik accidentally catches sight of them.
  • A God Am I: By the end of the third book Pippa has pretty much gone off the rails.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Gemma's stint at Spence starts out with her and Ann as this. Then they become besties with the most popular girls in the school. This sort of balances the group out- Felicity and Pippa's friendship with Gemma and Ann downgrades them to Loveable Alpha Bitches, allowing the new Alpha Bitches, Cecily and Elizabeth, to move in. But these two themselves are somewhat this trope as even with their damaged credibility, Felicity and Pippa can still put their feet down and command the pecking order. Subsequently, Gemma and Ann are still regarded as the lowest rung of the school's pecking order but are only teased by Cecily and Elizabeth, with the rest of the school treating them much better thanks to their friendship with Felicity and Pippa.
  • Alliterative Name: Mr. Bartleby Bumble the barrister.
    Ann: This is my beloved, Mrs. Bumble. She wears a bright bauble bought from Barrington's Baubles. Beware barristers bringing baubles! Better the berries than barristers! Bite bitter berries before becoming Bumble's beloved!
  • Aloof Big Brother: The social-climbing Tom Doyle is, more often than not, kind of embarrassed by Gemma.
  • Alpha Bitch: At first it seems like this will be Felicity's designated role, but she and Gemma wind up bestest buddies. The role is instead taken by Cecily Temple, who is jealous that the aforementioned happened.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Played straight in one case (Sarah Rees-Toome) and ultimately subverted in another (Felicity).
  • Anyone Can Die: When the dead bodies at the end include the main character's Love Interest, you know it's serious business.
  • Arranged Marriage: This is what leads to Pippa's suicide. A far less tragic example almost happens to Felicity, with Horace Markham, but when she tells him she's not interested in him, it turns out he feels the same about her and has no desire to force things.
  • "Back to Camera" Pose: The first and third covers of the trilogy show a waist-up redheaded woman (presumably the protagonist, given her distinctive red hair) from the back.
  • Beautiful All Along: Interestingly, a version of this happens to the very plain Ann in the third book, without any kind of a traditional makeover: when she finally performs for the composer Mr. Smalls and nails it, as herself and not in disguise as Nan Washbrad, Gemma remarks that she is much more beautiful than the fictional persona of Nan Washbrad ever was. Not really meant in the sense of traditional beauty being discovered, though, so much as appreciating people as they are. Particularly When She Smiles.
  • Bedlam House: The Bedlam figures prominently in Rebel Angels. Although it's portrayed fairly positively, with the doctors honestly trying to be gentle with the patients, even if they don't really have the tools to help them.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Charlemagne and many of the Knights Templar were Rakshana, according to Kartik.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Causes Gemma's mother to kill herself.
  • Big Eater: Pippa, for a dainty young Victorian lady, anyway.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sure, Gemma does end up defeating the Big Bad but not before other characters including her own Love Interest die.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Well, two brunettes but one of them dies and then goes crazy. Gemma's definitely a Fiery Redhead, Ann is something of a Brainy Brunette, but Pippa is not, and Felicity is very much not a Dumb Blonde.
  • Boarding School: Spence.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Apparently, it was once pretty common for the Rakshana and the members of the Order they guarded to be lovers. Named examples include Gemma and Kartik (eventually), and Miss McCleethy and Hugo Fowlson. It may or may not be worth noting that neither pairing ends well, but then, what pairing in this series does?
  • Brainless Beauty: Pippa is the most beautiful and least intelligent of the four main girls.
  • Broken Bird: There are so many of these it's like somebody gassed an aviary then went inside and just started stomping.
  • The Caretaker: Gemma herself, her brother Tom and their grandmother towards their addicted to laudanum father.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Ann's favorite book, the Story Within a Story, "The Perils of Lucy".
  • Code Name: Loads, some of which are also Significant Anagrams. These include Circe, code name for Hester Moore, which is in itself a code name. Claire McCleethy is a codename used by Order member Sahirah Foster after Circe used it first. Even the girls use code names, including Gemma Dowd, Nan Washbrad, and Felicity's choice of "Miss Anthropy."
  • Cool Teacher: Miss Moore. She even has a pocketwatch.
  • Dangerous 16th Birthday: A Great and Terrible Beauty starts on the day Gemma turns sixteen. This also happens to be the day Gemma has her first vision and the day of her mother's death. Worst.Birthday.Ever.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mainly Gemma, though Felicity gets her share of snark in as well.
  • Deal with the Devil: Attempted by Sarah Rees-Toome and Mary Dowd, via Human Sacrifice. All does not go according to plan.
  • Death Is Cheap: Seems that way at first, given the nature of the Realms, but over the course of the trilogy several major characters do indeed end up Killed Off for Real.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Felicity.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Gemma and Kartik in the realms. Word of God says "that is open to interpretation."
  • Driven to Suicide: Pippa, when she realizes she cannot escape her Arranged Marriage.
    • also, Gemma's mother, Mary Dowd/Virgina Doyle, when Circe's assassin comes after her.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Just focusing on the four main girls, there are several cases of Parental Abandonment (both from death and otherwise), Parental Incest, self-harm, and in one case—different from the previous!—suicide. For starters.
  • The Eeyore: Ann isn't even a plucky scholarship student. She's just... kind of pathetic.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Felicity is chagrined to admit her middle name is "Mildrade." (From her full name, Ann develops the oddly appropriate anagram "Maleficent Oddity Ralingworth.")
  • Enfant Terrible: Ann's cousins whose nanny she was supposed to be in The Sweet Far Thing.
  • Epigraph: One in each book, usually the source of that book's Literary Allusion Title, excerpted from the following:
  • Erotic Dream: Gemma has them about Kartik fairly often.
  • Extreme Doormat: Oh, Ann. Fortunately, she gets better.
    • Gemma, despite being a Deadpan Snarker, sure lets her friends walk all over her, especially when it comes to the realms. Even Ann.
  • Eye Scream: When the girls go Skinny Dipping, Kartik catches an eyeful of an underdressed Pippa. Felicity threatens Kartik with this.
    Felicity: (To Kartik) "If this were ancient times, we would hunt you down and put out your eyes for what you've seen."
  • Face–Heel Turn: Pippa. Going from the naïve daydreamer who just wanted to true love to A God Am I who sacrifices people to preserve her own beauty and power? Ouch.
  • Fainting Seer: Gemma.
  • Fiery Redhead: Gemma, and her mother before her.
  • Fille Fatale: Felicity, with an eye towards graduation.
  • Fired Teacher: Miss Moore again. Way to go, guys.
  • First-Person Smartass: Gemma. The funniest parts of the books are her internal monologues and observations.
  • Fish out of Water: Gemma, who travels from British-occupied India to England.
  • Food Chains: In a play on any number of different mythologies, if you eat anything in the Realms, you can never leave again. Eating berries from the Realms is how Pippa kills herself.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Gemma Doyle, Ann Bradshaw, Felicity Worthington, and Pippa Cross.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Felicity is choleric, Pippa is sanguine, Ann is melancholic, and Gemma is phlegmatic.
  • Freudian Trio: After Pippa begins to make the descent to A God Am I, Gemma, Ann, and Felicity resolve themselves from a FourTemperament / Girl Ensemble into this, with Gemma as the ego, Ann as the superego, and Felicity as the id.
  • Friendless Background: There is not a single mention of possible friends that Gemma might have had in India. Ann suffered the same trope, though her options were not as limited.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy
  • Generation Xerox: The parallels of the characters and general relationship of Gemma and Felicity with Gemma's mother and Circe are pretty obviously drawn. In the end, however, it's avoided: Gemma never goes as far as her mother did with Carolina, and Felicity never betrays Gemma despite her jealousy.
  • Girl Posse: Elizabeth Poole and, to a slightly lesser extent, Martha Hawthorne serve as this for Cecily.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: When the girls go Skinny Dipping and hear something nearby, Pippa screams for her clothes, either fearing this or being seen exposing so much skin.
  • The Grim Reaper: Members of the Order are supposed to act as psychopomps.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Not exactly in the case of Circe, but she does end up saving Gemma when it comes down to it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Miss McCleethy substitutes herself for Gemma in Pippa's ritual. While she apparently didn't realize exactly how serious business the situation was at first, it's still clear that she would be willing to take the metaphorical bullet in order to keep Gemma and the magic safe. Before that was Eugenia Spence, for Mary Dowd and Sarah Rees-Toome, except in that case it... didn't work out so well.
    • And how could we forget about Kartik?
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Ann is not a fan of herself, to the point of self-harm.
  • Hidden Depths: Aside from most of the characters, interestingly, the books themselves. They look to have a more typical All of the Other Reindeer "loser" vs. Alpha Bitch plot and end up going somewhere much more complex (and, indeed, empowering) than that.
  • Huge Schoolgirl: Though Gemma is very conscious of her height and the fact that she doesn't fit into the Victorian ideal of daintiness, she doesn't really have a complex over it.
  • Human Sacrifice: Sends Sarah Rees-Toome and Mary Dowd across the Moral Event Horizon.
  • The Ingenue: Pippa at first.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Nell is fond of this.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Brigid, according to... Brigid.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Pulled off by Miss Moore, aka Circe, to the point that our heroes actually think she was a tragic victim of her own monsters.
  • Karma Houdini: Circe. If you're not convinced that vaguely trying to save the life of the protagonist outweighs the sacrificing and/or murdering of countless innocent people (mostly children) then this trope arguably applies. Despite the aforementioned murders, she is given a place of 'glory' in the afterlife.
  • Killed Off for Real: By the end of the trilogy the body count is pretty high. This includes but is not limited to Virginia Doyle/Mary Dowd, Amar, Nell Hawkins, Circe, Miss McCleethy, Pippa, and Kartik.
  • Let's Read: There's one that begins here.
  • Magic Music: The first talent others notice and try to foster in Ann is her singing voice, and yes, she gets to use it to magical effect at least once.
  • Mary Sue: In-Universe. The main character in Ann's favorite book, "The Perils of Lucy". Also, in Rebel Angels, Cecily creates her own, named "Cecile". Hilarity Ensues as Gemma mentally snarks the quite awful story.
  • Mercy Kill: Nell foresees this happening to herself. Gemma doesn't get it at first, but when the time comes she fulfills the request to stop Circe from using Nell as a sacrifice.
  • Missing Mom.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Gemma is wary of speaking Hindi for fear of this happening.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: As if there weren't enough cues upon his introduction, the leader of the Poppy Warriors introduces himself as Azreal.
    • Subverted with Mrs. Nightwing.
  • Neat Freak: Ann.
  • No Name Given: Kartik is only ever known as exactly that. Word of God states he does have a last name that she chose privately (thus averting Only One Name), but she's not telling, so you can pick whatever. This also goes for Mr. Fowlson, who has a first name but is only ever known as "Fowlson."
    • Kartik might not even be his real name: his name is the 8th lunar month of the Hindu calendar which corresponds roughly with... November. In the third book he says his birthday is in November, solidifying the fact that his parents were either lacking in creativity when naming him, or when Gemma asked his name, he wasn't allowed to give it and just said the first thing that popped into his head.
    • For what it's worth, Kartik/Karthik is actually a real Hindu name, and a very common one at that. It's not entirely impossible that there would be boys named Karthik who happened to be born in November. Not to mention, calendars vary throughout India: in some places, Karthika Maasam can refer to October as well.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted, Gemma gets hers rather publicly in Rebel Angels.
  • Nouveau Riche: Ann's relatives, who sent her to Spence. Very much not people to root for or sympathize with.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Look no further than the book covers.
  • One-Gender School
  • The Ophelia: Poor, poor Nell Hawkins.
    • While Pippa isn't a typical example, being much more vicious than usual, she's associated with themes of drowning and flowers, and as she goes insane she's seen singing old folks songs.
  • Opium Den: A particularly low point for Gemma and her father, especially given that the whole thing happens as a result of Gemma trying to use magic to cure her father's laudanum addiction.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: Gemma dozes off in the boat on the lake on Spence grounds, thinking about her dead mother. While napping, she has a dream where she chases her mother through the woods, some ruins, and other places. After she wakes up, she finds she has a torn and muddy scrap of blue cloth tucked into her bodice, exactly like the cloth that she tucked into her bodice in the dream after it tore off her mother's skirt.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: When the girls go Skinny Dipping as quoted in the example:
    "Our clothes!" Pippa scrambles out of the water on heavy legs and runs for her chemise just as Kartik steps out of the trees, carrying a makeshift cricket bat. I can't tell who is more shocked and surprised - Kartik or Pippa.
    "Avert your eyes!" she says in near hysteria, trying desperately to cover herself with the bit of lace and cloth.
    Too astonished to argue, Kartik does, but not before I've seen the look in his eyes. Wonder and awe. As if he truly has seen a goddess made flesh. The visceral impact of her beauty is more powerful than any word or deed. The cloudiness of my mind clears long enough to record this.
  • Overly Long Gag: Ann is so unused to anyone reacting positively to the things she says that when people actually laugh at her jokes, she tends to run them into the ground until they aren't funny anymore. See Alliterative Name for an example.
  • Parental Abandonment: Gemma's mother's death is the catalyst for Gemma's adventures, and her father later becomes generally unavailable thanks to a very unpretty drug addiction. Felicity's mother is just kind of phoning it in, and while most people seem to think her father is a wonderful man, well... they're wrong. Ann is an orphan, and her living relatives are pretty awful. Pippa's parents are there for her, just in the wrong way.
  • Parental Incest: Felicity's backstory. When she got "too old," Daddy dumped her, later taking in another young relative as a "ward"...
  • Pervert Revenge Mode: Felicity's has Eye Scream when she describes hers after Kartik is an Accidental Pervert on the girls' Skinny Dipping:
    "If this were ancient times, we would hunt you down and put out your eyes for what you've seen," Felicity snarls from the lake.
  • Princess in Rags: Ann pretended to be the grand-niece of the Duke of Chesterfield in Rebel Angels.
  • Rags to Royalty: This is Ann's greatest daydream. She loves books in which this happens to the poor, plain heroine. She and Felicity even try to convince others that this is truth in Rebel Angels. The lie, of course, eventually falls apart, and it never happens to Ann for real.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Pippa, considered by many characters to be the most beautiful girl they've ever seen. By the end, she also most definitely fits into the "evil" variant of the trope.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Or perhaps even a Fate Worse than Death, in the case of Circe.
    Circe: Have no illusions about me, Gemma. I meant to save myself first. To have the power second. You were a distant third.
    Gemma: But I was third.
  • Refusing Paradise: Gemma has to chose between dying and passing into the afterlife, honored as a hero, or being restored to life, granted one wish, and forgotten by time. She choses life, and wishes that her mentor/enemy be allowed into Heaven.
  • Right Behind Me: This happens to Gemma too often for her own good.
  • Roma: A band of gypsies (including Felicity's erstwhile boy toy Ithal) hangs around the woods near Spence on and off. This is something they've apparently done for years, as the elderly Mother Elena was around in Gemma's mother's time as evidenced by the fact that it was Mother Elena's young daughter who ended up the tragic sacrifice of Mary Dowd and Sarah Rees-Toome.
  • Romantic False Lead: Simon Middleton.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Gemma's mom is dead by the end of chapter two. The list of bodies only grows from there.
  • Scholarship Student: Ann, and she is never allowed to forget it.
  • Second Love: Mlle. LeFarge and Inspector Kent, after Gemma manages to (surreptitiously) convince the former to let go of her deceased fiancé. Felicity worries that she will never find one of these after Pippa is Killed Off for Real.
    Gemma: You will love again, Fee.
    Felicity: No. No, I won't. Not like this.
  • Shoot the Dog: The aforementioned Mercy Kill. It's not an easy choice to make.
  • Significant Anagram: Using anagrams was a common way for members of The Order to hide their identities. Most significantly, Gemma is first fooled by "Claire McCleethy" being an anagram for "They call me Circe"—turns out the Miss McCleethy Gemma knows took up the name as a decoy after the real Circe used it. Later, once beloved teacher Hester Moore's middle name turns out to be Asa, it doesn't take Gemma long to unscramble that to Sarah Rees-Toome.
  • Skinny Dipping: A Victorian-era version where they keep their chemises on but the spirit is the same. Keeping true to said spirit, Kartik stumbles upon the girls and Felicity threatens to put his eyes out for what he's seen.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Gemma and Kartik. They spend the first book hating each other, the second book full of UST but still threatening each other with death (more Gemma doing the threats, though), and by the third book they're together in an on-off way.
  • Stern Teacher: Mrs. Nightwing.
  • The Stoic: Ann is careful to maintain control of her reactions, due in part to her station meaning she has to take whatever is thrown at her by her "betters" and in part to the fact that she stutters horribly when she gets upset.
  • Story Within a Story: "The Perils of Lucy".
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Gemma inherited enough of her mother's appearance to significantly freak out at least one other character.
  • Supernatural Fiction: The atmosphere of the setting is that of supernatural fiction and Libba Bray is fond of using this term to describe her works.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Kartik.
  • Title Drop: A Great and Terrible Beauty is a phrase used by Gemma to describe the feeling of using the magic in the runes in the realms. The other two are Literary Allusion Titles that get dropped in the Epigraph.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Almost everything Gemma finds out about her mother in A Great and Terrible Beauty was supposed to be a surprise,but every synopsis everywhere, including to an extent the back of the book itself, lays it out bare (with, admittedly, the important exception of Carolina's murder). Also, if you make the mistake of reading the back cover for Rebel Angels before finishing A Great and Terrible Beauty, oops, now you know that in the first book Pippa dies and the second book has a case of but not really.
  • Victorian London
  • World Tree: Not the good kind either. This is the kind that eats people.
  • The X of Y: The "The Perils of Lucy", of the Story Within a Story entry.