Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray

Summary: 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.

Gemma, 16, 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. Summary and Cover photo from

My Review: Gemma Doyle dreams of living in England but her mother wants her near in India. When a tragedy makes Gemma's dream come true, life in England isn't what she expected. First Gemma must keep a terrible secret. Then she finds that the other girls at Spence girl's academy are not easily befriended. To make matters worse upon arriving in England a mysterious man has begun to follow her. Gemma must see through the mystery and magic to discover who her true self.

Woven quietly into this intriguing story line are several important lessons for today's teenage girls. The author addresses the insecurities girls of this age have with themselves, while showing that these are normal and that all girls deal with some sort of insecurity though their nature may differ. The novel also faces the issue of popularity while stressing the importance of acceptance. This book does an excellent job recounting the mischievous behavior of girls in another era yet relating to modern day.

Libba Bray also played with the idea of teenage romance and Although I thought the love story between Gemma and Kartik added to the story, I wish the author would have left out some of the detail of Gemma's dreams. I must admit that there is one scene that had me questioning it's appropriateness for young adults, though I'm sure it would be fine for the 15+ age group. I would also have loved a little more romantic tension between Gemma and Kartik.

Overall an enjoyable story with stand up characters. A quick read that, while not all consuming, will make the reader enjoy picking up the book to continue the tale. There are two other books in this series, Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing, and I am excited to see where the author takes the story.

My Rating: 4 Stars

If I could sum it up in one sentence it would be: A mystical, magical coming-of-age story told from another realm.

1 comment:

Pearls and Pumps said...

I LOVE these books! I am a huge Libba Bray fan and got to meet her 2 years ago for the release of The Sweet Far Thing. These books do not disappoint!


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