Rebel Angels is a sequel to Libba Bray's Victorian fantasy, A Great and Terrible Beauty. The book follows the continuing adventures of young Gemma Doyle as she pursues her recently discovered role as the one destined to "bind" the magic of the mysterious otherworld known as "The Realms." Gemma's goal is to restore control of the Realms to "the Order," a shadowy group of female acolytes. Gemma and her friends Felicity and Ann (all of whom attend the Spence Accademy for Young Ladies) use their magical powers to travel from the narrow confines of their oppressive patriarchal world into the glorious otherworld of the Realms, which despite its strangeness and looming menace offers them a sense of power frequently lacking to women in Victorian England.
Gemma must search for clues to the whereabouts of the elusive lost Temple (doing so is the crux of her mission), even as she tries to comfort Pippa, her friend who has been lost to this world and is roaming the Realms. She also must deal with her attraction to Kartik, her erstwhile "protector" from the male-dominated Rakshana, who wants her to bind the power of the Realms for their sake (and for her to shortly thereafter meet a final end). Basically, the novel veers back and forth from a sort of Victorian mystery to a fantasy otherworld; Gemma has to discover the identity of the evil Circe, the former member of the Order out to take control of the Realms for herself. Unfortunately for Gemma, unmasking the villain proves more difficult than she thought.
Rebel Angels adopts the notion of magic as a sort of matriarchal "Goddess" conceit; in it, the heroines find the power they lack in the modern world. For example, Gemma's friend Felicity seems quite drawn to the power the Realms purport to offer, and as we learn of her abuse at the hands of her father we see the reason why she might feel that way. The plot is complicated and convoluted, with virtually everyone having ulterior motives, secret identities, or hidden missions.
Bray's writing is inventive and convincingly captures the sense of Victorian London's high society and penchant for proper decorum at all times. It is intriguing how seriously the author sells her vision of magical female power in an alternate universe; at the same time, the most realistic, and convincing, aspects of the story are in the mundane world in which Gemma's friend Ann is enamoured of Gemma's obnoxious brother Tom, and in which Gemma and Tom must both confront the reality of their father's laudanum addiction.