Title/Author: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Series: Gemma Doyle #1
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: December 9, 2003
Genre: YA, 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.
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.
It’s amazing to know that this enthralling historical fiction is Libba Bray’s debut novel. For a first novel, the writing is superior! Although I have been leading to reading The Diviners, I am so glad that I decided to pick up this one first. It’s different to read an author’s works in chronological order, but it is definitely worth it. By doing it, you get to see how an author’s writing matures over time!
Libba Bray’s writing is elegant and formal, making it feel like you’re actually reading this in the late 19th century. She wrote about corsets and bodices, carriages and planned romances. But, she also incorporated the ideas of gypsies, magic, and realms to make it more of a fantasy novel. Nonetheless, Bray’s writing was addicting and hard to put down. I constantly found myself continuing to flip through the pages late into the morning hours. It’s such a bad habit but any good book will do it to me.
Gemma Doyle’s character was both brave and determined throughout the whole novel. After her mother’s death, she was forced to move into Spence, an all girl’s boarding school. It was a new beginning for her, but she didn’t let it stop her from trying to figure out what happened to her mother. With the help of three of her classmates: Felicity, Pippa and Ann, she was able to figure out the mystery behind her mother’s death.
But, her mother’s death wasn’t the only mystery in this novel. There was also the mystery of Sarah Rees-Toome and Mary Dowd. It was said that they died in a tragic fire at Spence, but after reading Mary’s diary, things quickly became revealed about their death. I found it insane how it was a ritual to always read part of her diary at Gemma, Felicity, Ann and Pippa’s Order meeting. It sounds super creepy to me and I don’t think I would ever want to be in the same room as such a mysterious novel.
The whole story featured elements of magic and realms that made it feel like a fantasy novel! If anyone knows me, fantasy is one of my favorite genres! I don’t read a lot of historical fiction (I think I’ve read 5), so the magic elements definitely helped me like this book a lot more!
What I Hated…
It’s crazy to think that I actually hated anything in this novel. There were so many things that I loved! But, there were actually numerous things that I disliked about this novel.
There was literally no romance in this novel. If any of you have been reading my blog for a while, you would know that I basically thrive off romantic books. Even a little bit of side romance can keep my attention. But this book lacked so much potential romance. Gemma and Kartik could’ve fallen in love. I mean, they did kiss in dreams and shared one real romantic interaction but besides that, there was nothing! I am really hoping that there is some romance in the next book, Rebel Angels!
It was also weird to read about a planned marriage between a sixteen-year-old and a man over fifty. That is just wrong on so many levels. Libba Bray actually wrote that the man was even older that her father. I felt so bad for Pippa that she had to go through this, but it showed me how terrible the 19th century could be. You were more likely to marry for money over love.
“There are no safe choices. Only other choices.”
“Because you don’t notice the light without a bit of shadow. Everything has both dark and light. You have to play with it till you get it exactly right.”
“In every end, there is also a beginning.”
I ended up giving this book 4/5 stars. It was such a good representation of YA fiction. If you are a fan of Gothic, Victorian era fiction, I can’t help but suggest that you read this. Libba Bray’s writing is magical and you definitely need to experience this!
This book was exactly what the title explains it to be: A Great and Terrible Beauty. There were elements of it that were great, others that were terrible, but overall it was beautiful! Everything about it was wonderful and I cannot help recommend this to any YA lovers!
I cannot wait to start reading the second book, Rebel Angels ASAP! The sizes of these novels keep growing but, there is nothing better than spending summer break reading some big books. I’m super excited to dive back into the world of Gemma and her friends as they try to control the realms.