A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Book One in the Gemma Doyle Series
Published on December 9th, 2003 by Simon and Schuster
Young Adult | Fantasy | Historical Fiction
A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.As much as I hate to admit it, I'm a sucker for cute, cheesy romance books without a whole lot of substance. I thought it would be hard to read this book because romance was not the main plot, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique.
Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.
A long time ago I remember reading one of the books in the series that my older sister let me borrow. I'm not quite sure which one it was, but even though I don't remember much, I'm left with fond memories of the beautiful place where the girls go. Something about it kept drawing me to this book so I finally picked it up.
Gemma is a wonderful main character. In the times where she's meant to be a proper lady who never speaks her mind, she struggles with keeping her opinions to herself and acting the way she's supposed to. On top of that she's very cunning, making the exchanges with the other girls very interesting and exciting to read because of how the pages turn with her choices.
Her friends, who you dislike at the start of the novel, become very real when you get to know them as Gemma's friends later on. They have valid reasons for the things they do, and even though sometimes they say things that are blatantly uncalled for, you get where they're coming from because of the lives they lived.
Even though the characters were very realistic and relatable, I felt like parts of the world were missing. I couldn't imagine the clothes they wore in that time, what the places in London were like. Maybe it's just me, but I had trouble putting images around the characters because of so.
One problem I had, and I'll try to be vague to keep from spoiling, was what happened at the end. I felt like the chapter touching on it should have been longer and more in-depth for such a big twist, but instead it kind of rushed by. When something big happens you want to know the details, to read what's happening to other characters, but it was over in a few measly pages and then shortly after the book ended. It might be the writer in me overreacting, but I really wanted more.
A Great and Terrible Beauty sucked me right in, making it nearly impossible for me to put down. Even though there was a romance only as a minor sub plot, I hardly noticed it. The book kept me flipping pages to find out what happens after each twist and I honestly can't wait to get my hands on the next one.