Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Series: Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on December 9, 2003
Published by Delacorte Press
Pages: 403
Read From: 8.2.14 - 8.7.14

Gemma Doyle isn't like other girls. Girls with impeccable manners, who speak when spoken to, who remember their station, who dance with grace, and who will lie back and think of England when it's required of them. 
No, sixteen-year-old Gemma is an island unto herself, sent to the Spence Academy in London after tragedy strikes her family in India. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma finds her reception a chilly one. She's not completely alone, though. . . .she's been followed by a mysterious young man, sent to warn her to close her mind against the visions. 
For it's at Spence that Gemma's power to attract the supernatural unfolds; there she becomes entangled with the school's most powerful girls and discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy, timeless group called the Order. It's there that her destiny waits. . . .if only Gemma can believe in it.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I'm not a fan of the cover art, though it is better than the revamped covers. It looks like a bodice ripper, and it's part of why it took me so long to read the series.

Characters: I can't say that I became especially attached to anyone, but I liked them for what they brought to the story. Gemma Doyle, our protagonist, is at heart a good girl, and she knows how to hold her own against the mean girls of the school. But she was also hot tempered and a bit of a brat. I couldn't understand at all why she would want to associate with the mean girls, and I kind of felt like her friendship with Ann, the scholarship student, was mostly to prove a point to the mean girls. Gemma is flawed, and they're believable flaws. I liked her, but I wanted to smack her a lot of the time. Felicity, the ringleader and richest girl there, was a complete snot at first, and her mean streak doesn't exactly go away. But we learn more and more about her past and her motivations, and I did begin to like her a bit more. Like Gemma, though, I wanted to mostly smack her - especially toward the end. Felicity is trouble, and for all of her sob story, I wouldn't have anything to do with her. Pippa only became pitiable because she was stuck in an engagement to a man far, far older than her, but she was pretty horrid, too, and self-serving. Ann, the plain scholarship student, was probably the one I liked the most, but even she turned a bit bratty when she started hanging out with Felicity and her group. So while the four main characters weren't wholly lovable, their different personalities and griefs brought a lot to the story, and it was interesting to follow them along and see how badly they messed things up. We don't see much of the villain in this installment, so I don't have a lot to say about Circe. Kartik, the young Indian boy who follows Gemma to England, seemed pretty cool. He, too, isn't in a lot, but I actually understood where he and the Rashkana were coming from in not wanting Gemma to bring back the Order. It seemed to me that the Order caused more problems than anything else.

The Romance: It's very obvious that there's going to eventually be something between Gemma and Kartik, but it really isn't focused on much in this installment. I suppose I'm okay with it. I don't know Kartik well enough to really decide, and Gemma right now is mostly having more lustful thoughts about him than anything else (hopefully that changes). I'm just glad it didn't take up much time.

Plot: You know what, the synopsis above actually does a pretty good job of summing it up. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a very interesting story - part boarding school story, part fantastical, part historical, and part girls' secret society. It makes for an interesting blend. It didn't take me long to become very much immersed in Gemma's world, from the moment when her mother kills herself to escape a nightmarish creature of shadows, to when her and the girls form a secret society and start venturing into the "other realms." You know things aren't going to go well - that's made apparent from the very beginning. But you keep reading.

Believability: No complaints. It sometimes felt like the Author did interject her own opinions, though. This being the second book I've read, her flagrant belittling of Christianity definitely seems to be a reoccurring theme in her books to a point that it doesn't feel like the characters' opinions, but the writer's.

Writing Style: First person, present tense. I didn't mind it too much. Libba Bray's style is very captivating and picturesque.

Content: Gemma has some rather heated dreams about being with Kartik, and the girls sometimes behave provocatively at night when they have their meetings.

Conclusion: I have to admit that it wasn't as epic as I was expecting it to be. There's quite a bit of build-up, but it's not quite as heart-pounding as I thought it would be. Still, it worked, and I look forward to seeing what happens next. A Great and Terrible Beauty is quick, interesting read with characters that's aren't necessarily lovable, but definitely bring a lot to the story.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, seventeen-and-up, fans of historical fantasy!

Others in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy:
1)A Great and Terrible Beauty
2)Rebel Angels
3)The Sweet Far Thing


  1. It's been so long since I read this (maybe early high school?), but I had a sour aftertaste upon finishing it. I remember the Kartik dreams and the somewhat anti-Christian spin being off-putting. I understand you are a teenager thinking sexual thoughts, but I could have done without the play by play, especially at the (much younger) time. :)

    1. Oh yes, Libba Bray is always blatantly anti-Christian. Since this is my second time reading one of her books, that came as no surprise.


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