A Great and Terrible Beauty
by Libba Bray
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.
A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is a curl-up-under-the-covers kind of book...a vast canvas of rustling skirts and dancing shadows and things that go bump in the night. It's a vividly drawn portrait of the Victorian age, a time of strict morality and barely repressed sensuality, when girls were groomed for lives as rich men's wives...and the story of a girl who saw another way. -(summary from book cover)
My Thoughts: I picked this book up for two reasons: 1) I had never read any of Libba Bray's books before and I had read such great things about them and 2) This cover is stunningly beautiful. I'm so glad I did!
Gemma Doyle is a sixteen-year-old girl growing up in India when she experiences a bit of family tragedy. As a result, she is sent to Spence Academy in London. Not only does Gemma not really fit in with the other girls there, but she is hiding a big secret from them: she has a bit of a problem that she does not understand. Gemma has visions that come true. She also has a power that allows her to enter the Realms, which is a place where the best of dreams and the worst of nightmares can come true. Gemma finds the old diary of a girl with similar visions and problems like hers. Together with her friends, Gemma learn more about the Realms and eventually begin exploring them. At first everything is great, until things get out of control...
I loved Gemma as a character. Although young, she is quite complex. I love how she is written differently than her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. In the first chapter or two of the book, I thought her a bit shallow. After her move to Spence Academy, however, she evolved as a girl and as a character into someone much more interesting and enjoyable. That girl has problems. Real problems. All four of the friends do, really...
...which brings me to another point about this book that I loved. Since this was written from a different period of history, I got a chance to be reminded of the difficulties that those girls faced just being girls back them. From the clothes, to the expectations, to the rules of society, and the differences in social class, Ms. Bray packs it all in there and as readers, we get to experience it. Loved that.
I think A Great and Terrible Beauty is a very strong start to this series. If you had asked me about it while I was still early in the book, I'm not sure what I would have said...but as the story progressed I really grew attached to Gemma and her circumstances. I think Ms. Bray did a fabulous job of starting a series but not ending this book with a cliffhanger. (I hate cliffhangers!) Everything wrapped up nicely in this story, but there are plenty of places Ms. Bray can take the storylines in the next installment and I can't wait to read it.