Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

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A Great and Terrible Beauty
By Libba Bray
Release Date: December 9, 2003 (U.S.)
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Pages: 403
ISBN-13: 978-0385730280 (hardcover); 978-0385732314 (paperback)

Genre: Romantic Suspense - YA (Going towards the 2012 Genre Fiction Challenge!)

Interested in something with magic, adventure, secret sisterhoods, love, betrayal, sinister forces, and more?  A Great and Terrible Beauty a young adult novel which has all of these, and it is an interesting blend of different elements of genre fiction. It is the first of a three part series.

The novel is set in Victorian England, and it follows the story of Gemma Doyle. It begins in India, where Gemma lives with her parents. It is her 16th birthday, and she is in the market with her mother. They have a fight after Gemma becomes angry that her mother does not want to return and take the family back to England. Gemma becomes lost in the market after running off, and is suddenly overcome by a terrible vision of her mother’s death involving sinister dark forces. She awakens to find that the horrible vision has come to pass.

Shortly after the tragedy, Gemma is sent to Spence Academy in England: a finishing school for girls where she is to learn to become a proper lady. She deals with the guilt brought on by her mother’s death, along with this new power she doesn’t understand and can’t control. She is haunted by visions and by a mysterious beast that appears to be hunting her. An enigmatic man named Kartik, warns her that she is to not have any more visions and that she needs to suppress them.

Gemma soon discovers a diary of a girl, who used to be a student at Spence Academy, named Mary Dowd. Gemma learns that Mary and her friend, Sarah Rees-Toomes, had participated in a tradition of powerful women associated with Spence Academy known as The Order.

As Gemma seeks approval from her new school mates, she begins to share her powers with them, and they begin a new Order. Gemma finds out that she holds the key to powerful magic which can transport her and her new friends to an alternate dream world known as The Realms.

The characters in this book evolve in interesting ways, as each of Gemma’s friends has something that makes them broken in their own eyes. In the magic of the Realms, they are free to be whoever they want to be, much unlike the proper English society they are made to be a part of and engage in at Spence.

The book is well written and well paced, and the reader can’t help but be intrigued by the Realms and by Gemma’s powers. Suspense is built as the reader sees what price the girls are willing to pay to use such powerful magic. The book is an inviting blend of paranormal, romance, and historical fiction. Readers will look forward to reading the sequel.

I quite enjoyed the book. The scenery is vivid and rich and the character development is pretty good. It made me want to wear Victorian corsets, go on dastardly adventures and find magical jewelry in antique shops.

I also found this book trailer and thought it was well done.

'...O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy.

Further News: While many fans of the Gemma Doyle series were looking forward to a movie adaptation, the author has now stated on her blog that, unfortunately, A Great and Terrible Beauty will no longer be hitting the big screen in the near future. :(


  1. Miri Gifford ShortenJanuary 13, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    I love this series! My roommate gave me the first one for my birthday one year in school and I was highly skeptical based on the cover. When I took it with me to read at work, I'd hide it in my cubicle so no one could see. :) It's surprisingly good, though, and not at all the silly Victorian romance it looks like it will be. I also love that the titles in the series are all taken from classic literature. 

  2. I agree Miri! I also loved that it was also heavily inspired by Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott"!

  3. I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it, although I haven't read any of the sequels.  Great review!


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