Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

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This entire trilogy is a beautiful, empowering coming of age story. It includes a long build up that honestly took a while for me to get into each book, especially this one. However, once the action started to unravel I couldn't put it down. There are so many quotable moments in this book about life, self-discovery, feminism, societal status and love.

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"I wish to live for myself. I should never want to be trapped."
"One needn't be trapped. One's life can be made so rich by sharing burdens and joys."
"I've not seen it to be so," Fee mumbles.
Mademoiselle LeFarge nods, considering. "It takes the right sort of husband, I suppose, the sort who'll be a friend and not a master. A husband who will care for his wife with small, everyday kindnesses and trust her with his confidences. And a wife must be such a friend in return."

And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.

"Reminds us that greatness lies even in the smallest of moments, in the humblest of hearts, and we shall, each of us, be called to greatness. Whether we shall rise to meet it or let it slip away is the challenge put before us all."

People have a habit of inventing fictions they will believe wholeheartedly in order to ignore the truth they cannot accept.

Power changes everything till it is difficult to say who are the heroes and who the villains.
And magic itself is neither good nor bad; it is the intent that makes it either.

Wendy has found her way back to me and still clings to my sleeve. "Is it terrible dark, miss?"
It is funny that she should be afraid of the dark when she cannot see it, but I suppose that is the sort of fear one feels deep in the soul.

I'm like everyone else in this stupid, bloody, amazing world. I'm flawed. Impossibly so. But hopeful. I'm still me.

The ladies pass the time with gossip and hearsay. This is what they have in place of freedom--game and gossip. Their lives are small and careful. I do not wish to live this way. I should like to make my mark. To venture opinions that may not be polite or even correct but are mine nonetheless. If I am to be hanged for anything, I should like to feel that I go to the gallows on my own strength.

Gemma, you see how it is. They've planned our entire lives, from what we shall wear to whom we shall marry and where we shall live. It's one lump of sugar in your tea whether you like it or not and you'd best smile even if you're dying deep inside. We're like pretty horses, and just as on horses, they mean to put blinders on us so we can't look left or right but only straight ahead where they would lead. Please, please, please, Gemma, let's not die inside before we have to.

Peace is not happenstance. It is a living fire that must be fed constantly. It must be tended to with vigilance, else it dies out.

No person has ever held all the power. There must be a balance between chaos and order, dark and light. With the Temple magic bound to you, the realms are no longer in balance. The power could change you...and you could change the magic.

If you would understand the present, you must come to know the past.

We sit and listen and are enthralled anew, for good stories, it seems, never lose their magic.

Kartik places a sovereign in the lady's cup, and I know that it's likely all he has.
"Why did you do that?" I ask.
He kicks a rock on the ground, balancing it nimbly between his feet like a ball. "She needed it."
Father says it isn't good to give money to beggers. They'll only spend it unwisely on drink or other pleasures. "She might buy ale with it."
He shrugs. "Then she'll have ale. It isn't the pound that matters; it's the hope...I know what it's like to fight for things that others take for granted."

The ships' masts press against the fog, letting us know they're here. In the distance there's a foghorn. Some vessel is slipping out farther toward the sea.
"Such a mournful sound. So lonely," I say, hugging my knees to my chest. "Do you ever feel that way?"
I search for the words. "Restless. As if you haven't really met yourself yet. As if you'd passed yourself once in the fog, and your heart leaped-- "Ah! There I am! I've been missing that piece!" But it happens too fast, and then that part of you disappears into the fog again. And you spend the rest of your days looking for it."
He nods, and I think he's appeasing me. I feel stupid for having said it. It's sentimental and true, and I've revealed a part of myself I shouldn't have.
"Do you know what I think?" Kartik says at last.
"Sometimes, I think you can glimpse it in another."

"You have a talisman of Kali," I answer.
"The Terrible Mother."
"The goddess of destruction."
"The destruction of ignorance," Mother Elena says, correcting me. "She is the one to help us walk through the fire of knowledge, to know our darkness that we should not fear it but should be freed, for there is both chaos and order within us."

"I thought I could save you both," he says.
"I don't need saving! I needed to trust you!"
"I'm sorry," he says simply. "People make mistakes, Gemma. We take the wrong action for the right reasons, and the right action for the wrong reasons."

Around us the night creatures have their say. We are surrounded by a symphony of crickets and frogs. Neither of us feels the need to speak, and I suppose that is one of the qualities I find comforting in Kartik. We can be alone together.

There are times when I wish I could go back and change the course of my life. Make different choices...But the past cannot be changed, and we carry our choices with us, forward, into the unknown. We can only move on.

"Mother insisted on paying for a chaperon tonight," Felicity whispers. "She believes it will make us look more important."
As we walk, the men survey us as if we're lands that might be won, either by agreement or in battle. The room buzzes with talk of the hunt and Parliament, horses and estates, but their eyes never stray too far from us. There are bargains to be struck, seeds to be planted. And I wonder, if women were not daughters and wives, mothers and young ladies, prospects or spinsters, if we were not seen through the eyes of others, would we exist at all?
"We might pass the time with cake," Madame Lumiere suggests.
I do not want to I pass the time. I want to grab hold of it and leave my mark upon the world.

"Can you imagine how great our reach would be if we were to have power such as yours at our control? Think like an Englishwoman, Miss Doyle! What could this power do for the empire, for the future sons of England?"
"You're forgetting: We are not all English, and we are not all men," I say, insinuating myself into his chess game. I move a pawn forward, taking his bishop unawares. "What of Amar and Kartik and others like them? What of my sex--or of men of Mr. Fowlson's station? Will any of us sit at your table?"
"Some rule; others are meant to be subjects." His knight takes my queen, putting my king in danger. "What do you say, Miss Doyle? Your whole future could be arranged to your liking. Everything you could possibly want."

I spend the day after the ball, Sunday, with my family before returning to Spence. The seamstress has come to fit my gown to me and make minor adjustments. I stand before the mirror in my half-finished gown whilst she takes in a pinch here, adds a ruffle there. Grandmama hovers nearby, barking instructions to the woman, fretting over every little detail. I pay her no mind, for the girl staring back at me from the mirror is starting to become her own woman. I can't say exactly what it is; it's not something that can be named. I only know that she's there, emerging from me like a sculpture from marble, and I'm most anxious to meet her.

"However did you do that?" I ask him, for I find the trick merry even if Fee doesn't.
"In truth, it is the simplest act in the world. The trick works because you wish it to. You must remember, my dear lady, the most important rule of any successful illusion: First, the people must want to believe in it."

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"Hello," he says. He smiles, and it is brighter than the sun. He reaches down; I take his hand; and the world falls away again. We stand in a garden made fragrant by lotus blossoms as large as beds.
"Where are we?" I ask. My voice sounds strange in my ears.
"We're here," he says, as if that answers everything, and in a sense, it does.
He takes his knife and draws a ring around me in the dirt.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"This circle symbolizes the joining of our souls," he answers. He circles me seven times, stepping into the enclosure on the seventh. We stand facing each other. He presses his palms to mine.
I do not know if I am dreaming.
He slips his hand behind my neck, pulling me gently toward him. His hands twine in my hair and he rubs the strands between his fingers like a fine silk he longs to purchase. And then his mouth is on mine, hungry, searching, overpowering.
This is a new world, and I will travel it.
I don't know what I should like his to say: I love you. You are beautiful. Never leave me. It seems I hear all of this and yet he says only one word, my name, and I realize I have never heard him say it this way before: as if I am known. The skin of his chest is smooth under the weight of my fingers. When my lips brush against the hollow of his throat, he makes a sound that is a bit like a sigh and a growl.
His lips are on me in a fever of kissing. My mouth. My jaw. My neck. The insides of my arms. He places his hands at the small of my back and kisses my stomach through the rough fabric of my dress, sending sparks through my veins. he lifts my hair and warms the back of my neck with his mouth, trailing kisses down my spine while his hands cup my breasts gently. The laces of my corset are loosened. I'm able to breathe him in now. Kartik has shed his shirt. I don't recall when it happened, and for some reason, I forget to be shamed by it. I only note his beauty: the smooth brown of his skin, the breadth of his shoulders, the muscles of his arms, so very different from my own. The rose-strewn ground is soft and yielding under my body. Kartik presses against me, and I feel as if I could sink right through the giving earth. Instead, I push against him, feeling warm, till I think I could die from it.
"Are you certain...?"
For once, I do not feel apart. I kiss him again, letting my tongue explore the warmth just inside his lips. Kartik's eyes flutter, and then he opens them wide, with a look I cannot describe, as if he has just glimpsed something precious that he thought lost. He pulls me tightly to him. My hands grip his shoulders. Our mouths and bodies speak for us in a new language as the trees share loose a rain of petals that stick to our slickness like skins we will wear forever. And just like that, I am changed.

I press our palms together. Our fingers tingle where they touch. His eyelids flicker and then they open wide in understanding of the magical gift I've given him.
Reluctantly, I take my hand away. "You can do anything."
"Anything," he repeats.
I nod.
"Well, then."
He closes the small distance between us and puts his lips against mine. They are soft but the kiss is firm. He puts his hand sweetly on the back of my neck and pulls my face to him with the other. He kisses me again, harder this time, but it's just as lovely. His lips are so necessary that I cannot imagine how I can live without tasting them always. Perhaps this is how girls fall--not in some crime of enchantment at the hands of a wicked ne're-do-well, a grand before and after in which they are innocent victims who have no say in the matter. Perhaps they simply are kissed and want to kiss back. Perhaps they even kiss first. And why should they not?
I count the kisses--one, two, three, eight. Quickly, I pull away to catch my breath and my bearings. " could have whatever you wished."
"Exactly," he says, nuzzling my neck.
"But," I say, "you could turn stones to rubies or ride in a fine gentleman's carriage."
Kartik puts his hands on either side of my face. "To each his own magic," he says, and kisses me again.

"I was the wrong girl for all of this."
He leans against the end of the pew, his arms folded across his chest. "No, you're not."
"You don't know what I've done, else you wouldn't say that."
"Why don't you tell me?"
It seems to take forever for the words to travel through the wreckage inside me. But they do come, and I don't spare myself. I tell him everything, and he listens. I'm afraid he'll hate me for it, but when I've finished he only nods.
"Say something," I whisper. "Please."
"The warning was for the birth of May. Now we know what it meant, I suppose," he says, thinking already, and I smile a little because I know this means he's heard, and we have moved on. "We'll go after her."

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

"We might still save the realms," he says.
"I'm not running away again. That is not my destiny."
He slips his hand under my chin and tilts it up, and I kiss him first.
"I thought you stopped believing in destiny," I remind him.
"I haven't stopped believing in you."
I smile in spite of everything. I need his belief just now. "Do you think.." I stop.
"What?" he murmurs into my hair. His lips are warm.
"Do you think, if we were to stay in the realms, that we could be together?"
"This is the world we live in, Gemma, for better or for worse. Make of it what you can," he says, and I pull him to me.

"War." Gorgon spits the word. "That is what they call it to give the illusion of honor and law. It is chaos. Madness and blood and the hunger to win. It has always been thus and shall always be so."

"You're cruel!" Felicity screams after me. She starts to cry. I know I've done the right thing but I couldn't feel worse about it, and I suppose that is part of what it is to lead.

I should leave her to it, but I can't. "She was gone for some time. You were the only force that kept her from turning completely. That's magic. Perhaps the most powerful I've seen."

It is the taste of forgetting. Of sleep and dreams with no waking. Never to long or yearn, to struggle or hurt or love or desire ever again. And I understand that this is what it truly means to lose your soul.

"Our days are numbered in the book of days, Most High," Gorgon murmurs as the garden comes once more into view. "That is what gives them sweetness and purpose."

"There is never any turning back, Gemma. You have to go forward. Make the future yours," Kartik says.

"They can't know what has happened."
She wants me to take what magic I have left and blot every memory of this evening from their minds. To make them forget so that they can carry on as before. There will always be the Cecilys, Marthas, and Elizabeths of the world--those who cannot bear the burden of truth. They will drink their tea. Weigh their words. Wear hats against the sun. Squeeze their minds into corsets, lest some errant thought should escape and ruin the smooth illusion they hold of themselves and the world as they like it.
It is a luxury, this forgetting. No one will come to take away the things I wish I had not seen, the things I wish I did not know. I shall have to live with them.
I wrench away from her grip. "Why should I?"
I do it anyways. Once I am certain the girls are asleep, I creep into their rooms, one by one, and lay my hands across their furrowed brows, which wear the trouble of all they've witnessed. I watch while those brows ease into smooth, blank canvases beneath my fingers. It is a form of healing, and I am surprised by how much it heals me to do it. When the girls awake, they will remember it for a moment, but then they will tell themselves it was only a dream best forgotten.
I have done what Mrs. Nightwing said I should do. But I do not take all their memories from them. I leave them with one small token of the evening: doubt. A feeling that perhaps there is something more. It is nothing more than a seed. Whether it shall grown into something more useful, I cannot say.

There is an ancient tribal proverb I once heard in India. It says that before we can see properly we must first shed our tears to clear the way.
I cry for days.

I have done what they expected of me. I have curtsied for my Queen and made my debut. This is what I have anticipated eagerly for years. So why do I feel so unsatisfied? Everyone is merry. They haven't a care in the world. And perhaps that is it. How terrible it is to have no cares, no longings. I do not fit. I feel too deeply and want too much. As cages go, it is a gilded one, but I shall not live well in it or any cage, for that matter.

"I know I shall make beastly mistakes, Father--"
"The world does not forgive mistakes so quickly, my girl." He sounds bitter and sad.
"Then if the world will not forgive me," I say softly, "I shall have to learn to forgive myself."

We fall into the great continuing circle of dancers. Some leave the floor, tired but giddy; others have only just arrived. They are eager to wear their new status as ladies, to be paraded about and lauded until they see themselves with new eyes. The fathers beam at their daughters, thinking them perfect flowers in need of their protection, while the mothers watch from the margins, certain this moment is their doing. We create the illusions we need to go on. And one day, when they no longer dazzle or comfort, we tear them down, brick by glittering brick, until we are left with nothing but the bright light of honesty. The light is liberating. Necessary. Terrifying. We stand naked and emptied before it. And when it is too much for our eyes to take, we build a new illusion to shield us from its relentless truth.

Why should we girls not have the same privileges as men? Why do we police ourselves so stringently - whittling each other down with cutting remarks or holding ourselves back from greatness with a harness woven of fear and shame and longing? If we do not deem ourselves worthy first, how shall we ever ask for more?

When I dream, I dream of him. For several nights now he's come to me, waving from a distant shore as if he's been waiting patiently for me to arrive. He doesn't utter a word, but his smile says everything. How are you? I've missed you. Yes, all is well. Don't worry.
Where he stands, the trees are in full bloom, brilliant with flowers of every color imaginable. Parts of the ground are still scorched and rocky. There are hard, bald patches where nothing may ever grow again. It is hard to tell. But in other spots, tiny green shoots struggle their way up. Rich black dirt smooths over the surface of things. The earth heals itself.
Kartik takes a stick and digs in the soft, new soil. He's making something but I cannot tell what it is yet. The clouds shift. Shafts of sunlight peek through, and now I can see what he has drawn. It is a symbol: two hands interlocked, surrounded by a perfect, unbroken circle. Love. The day is breaking free. It bathes everything in a fierce light. Kartik is fading from view.
No, I call. Come back.
I'm here, he says.
But I can't see. It's too bright.
You can't hold back the light, Gemma. I'm here. Trust me.
The water washes over the riverbank, erasing the edges till there's nothing. But I saw it. I know it's there. And when I wake, the room is white with the morning sun. The light is so bright it hurts my eyes. But I don't dare close them. I won't. Instead, I try to adjust to the dawn, letting the tears fall where they may, because it is morning; it is morning, and there is so much to see.

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