November 24, 2005


The Girl with the Broken Wing. By Heather Dyer. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. Chicken House/Scholastic. $15.99

Rebel Angels. By Libba Bray. Delacorte Press. $16.95.

     Angels have come a long way since the days when they were God’s helpers – and the brightest of them all, Lucifer, whose very name means “bringer of light,” rebelled against God and was thrown from Heaven and renamed Satan.  Today’s angels – the literary ones, anyway – are more likely to be earthbound and less likely to be either wholly pure or in total rebellion.  They are, in fact, filled with human traits – though their frequent association with Christmas, which emerges in both these books, shows them retaining a hint of their medieval origin.

     The Girl with the Broken Wing is a short and gentle book about a winged girl named Hilary who crash-lands one night at the home of twins Amanda and James, with whom she then has a series of adventures.  Hilary can only read pictures, not writing, and her feet are dirty (a charming detail), and she tends to snore, and one of her wings is broken because of her crash-landing.  But she is thoroughly charming, and she enjoys being with the twins in school, and after her wing heals she can take them on rides through the air, and she eventually participates in a rescue or two.  The latter part of the book changes tone with the arrival of “icky Vicky,” the twins’ troublemaking cousin, but even the problems Vicky causes are eventually solved pleasantly enough – just in time for Christmas, which turns out to have a super-special meaning for Hilary, who finally departs with a promise to return in the future.  Peter Bailey’s illustrations are lovely in an old-fashioned way, especially the one of Hilary standing at the Christmas tree.  The story has old-fashioned charm, too, but is likely to be a touch too sweet-natured and a little too pat for many young readers’ tastes.

     Rebel Angels is a much longer book and a much less gentle one.  It is a 500-plus-page sequel to Libba Bray’s first novel, A Great and Terrible Beauty, which was a bestseller in 2003.  Rebel Angels will likely satisfy fans of the earlier book, but does not make much of a story on its own.  Gemma Doyle and her friends, Felicity and Anna, are still at Spence Academy in the new book; Christmas is approaching – that angelic connection again! – and the girls’ thoughts are of fancy balls and future husbands.  But that is in London.  Gemma is even more focused on the magical Realms, where the girls’ friend Pippa lives, and where Gemma senses trouble and danger.  There is danger in London, too, and it appears to have magical origin; and Gemma comes to realize that she will eventually have to find and confront Circe, once Gemma’s mother’s greatest friend but later responsible for her death.  The plot is complex and multifaceted, its 19th-century realistic-world and magical elements expertly interwoven.  The story is not, however, highly original, combining the usual “go on a quest” and “avenge a parent” themes so common in magical fantasy.  The ending portends further adventures to come, which will likely solidify Bray’s fan base if not necessarily add to it.

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