July 29, 2013

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Release Date: December 9, 2003

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 403

My Rating: 4 stars

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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. 

A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.  - 

I've been very hesitant to read this book because I'm generally not very fond of historical fiction, but the description makes it apparent that the whole story doesn't only revolve around what the world was like in a different point in time, so the fact that there were other genres mixed in intrigued me.

To me, the historical fiction aspect was beautifully woven into the entire story. The difference between the time the book takes place and the way things are now was highlighted in a fascinating way. My problem with historical fiction is that often too many words are jumbled together in a way that I don't always understand or makes me bored, so it was nice that any older terms and sayings were explained in a way that was quick, but still flowed smoothly.

"There's no one around to stifle us. No on to tell us that what we think and feel is wrong. It isn't that we do what we want. It's that we're allowed to want at all."

While I did enjoy the overall plot and characters, I feel that what tied it all together wonderfully was the beauty of the way it was written. The writing made it incredibly easy to imagine what Gemma and her friends must have been feeling while being forced to make their lives revolve around what society wanted them to be... which was nothing more than a pretty wife to look at.

"We're all looking glasses, we girls, existing only to reflect their images back to them as they'd like to be seen. Hollow vessels of girls to be rinsed of our own ambitions, wants, and opinions, just waiting to be filled with the cool, tepid water of gracious compliance."

Once the girls became friends, the new and magical world that Gemma could take them to was the only taste of freedom they had, and it was amazing to see what they were all willing to do in order to keep it in their lives. The desperation they felt practically bled out from the pages, and it only made the description of the the other world all the more breathtaking. I loved how their own experiences tied in with the "history" of that world.

"Their sin was that they believed. Believed they could be different. Special. They believed they could change what they were- damaged, unloved. Cast-off things. They would be alive, adored, needed. Necessary. But it wasn't true. This is a ghost story, remember? A tragedy."

Overall, I believe A Great and Terrible Beauty is a well written book blending in various topics with characters that really grew on me as the story went on. I liked it a lot more once I finished reading and had some time to process the it all. Due to the emotions expressed through these lovely words, the story got me really thinking about how life must have been for these girls. Beautiful images were created, but it also had a very creepy feeling to it- just as the title suggests.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Haha, terrible spelling errors on my previous comment so I had to delete it. :D What I meant to say was that I think I need to check this one out! It sounds interesiting. :)

  2. I have all three of these books sitting on my shelf and I need to read them soon. I read The Diviners and really liked it, so I think I'll like these books as well. Great review! ~Pam