'Tis Victorian times, and our 16 year old protagonist, Gemma, is being unhappily dragged through the streets of India by her mother. Bray does a delightful job of capturing the love/hate moments a daughter goes through as Gemma makes horrid remarks, then wishes she could take them back, then wishes they'd come true. Everything seems to center around the fact that Gemma is sure her true place is in London and her mother wants to make her life boring and miserable. (The job of all mothers of teenage daughters.)
The two are separated and Gemma suddenly finds herself overcome with a strange power and "sees" her mother attacked and killed by a mysterious darkness. The death is kept quiet for respectability's sake, and Gemma finds herself in a setting worse than anything she could have ever imagined: Spence, a boarding school in England that turns out young women perfect for marriage. (In other words, young ladies who don't speak, don't think, and have no ideas or emotions of their own. *shudder*)
Gemma must find her way in this restrictive setting, deal with the powerful and dangerous inner clique at the school, grieve for her mother's death, and figure out her role in it. Oh, and she seems to have magic and be the key to a portal that may open up a dark magic that will destroy everyone and everything.
I really enjoyed this book because it was a great mix of typical adolescent feelings of having no power and not knowing who you are, the setting of a Victorian boarding school, a few shots of romance, magic and power, and glimpses of evil that we all have within.
Maybe there's a few cliches and archetypal characters and setting, but it made for a quick read. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, Rebel Angels.
If you like the idea of a "chosen one" and books about magic, you might enjoy it. The magic itself never makes a whole lot of sense (at least in this, the first book of the series), and really I think the best part of the story is the honest depiction of the vicious interaction of girls and the power-plays of friendship. There are eloquent descriptions and amusing observations, but the "historical" setting often seems compromised by the modern point of view. The narrator, 16-year-old Gemma, despite her rather sheltered upbringing, seems to see through the facade of society with the ease of a 21st century sociologist. There was even an amusing tirade against the old phrase "lay back and think of England," and I have a hard time believing that any girl of the time, unless explicitly taught different, would be capable of such perceptive mocking. The feminist overtones are pretty overt. If you don't care about realism (and there's nothing wrong with that), it's a decent read. Note--It's a YA novel, but it's more PG-13 than PG.
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.
Gemma, 16, 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 wi! th 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. (Ages 12 up) 'Patty Campbell
The story begins in 1895 in India, where Gemma has lived since she was a small child. On her 16th birthday, Gemma has a vision. A terrible vision that she finds is true, her mother has died by her own hand. As the days progress, Gemma begins to have more visions. Visions that haunt her. Visions that make her seek a truth for what she see. She returns with her family to England where she enters an all girls finishing school. She is warned by a handsome gypsy boy to fight her visions. To fight the pull to seek out the answers to her questions. She is slowly drawn into a mysterious world of light and beauty. She takes with her three girls she has befriended. The more they visit this beautiful word and the more they try to use it's power, the further they get drawn into it's web. Soon they must escape before it's power consumes them, but it will not come without great sacrifice. This is one of the very best books I have read in a long time. It is an awesome story that makes you feel the power of the magic's great and terrible beauty. The author has written two more books in this series and I cannot wait to read them both.
Though this book was written for young adults, I loved every moment of it. The characters are so multi-dimensional that you will see a bit of yourself or someone you know in almost all of them. I loved how this writer was able to set the book in the Victorian Age yet create characters that were so easy for today's readers to identify with. I promise you will not be disappointed by this story!
"Dead Poet's Society" meets Anne of Green Gables and "The Neverending Story." The title's pretty ambiguous, and not the best choice for this tale of the supernatural in boarding school. It's a fun little book, along the lines of "Twilight" though not as intelligent.
This book was a great read. Technically it's a young adult selection & deals with teenage girls, but it would be a great fantasy read for anyone. A secret society, magic, a romantic interest, all set in England at a "finishing school."
If you are an adult woman who found yourself inexplicably loving the Twilight series and The Hunger Game Series, even though they are about teen age angst, you'll probably like this, too. It's fast paced, paints a vivid picture of the magical world, and develops a strong character in the protagonist. It intrigued me enough to order the next one in the series.
Normally, the cover of this book would have sent me running for the hills. I am not a fan of "period books" and always find myself kind of resentful of authors who try to cram a healthy dose of history down my throat when I'm just trying to enjoy a good story.
However, Libba Bray has made me change my tune. Set in turn-of-the-century London, A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first installment of the Gemma Doyle trilogy. It's hard to categorize these books - the publisher seems most comfortable with "gothic thrillers." They have a little bit of everything - romance, the supernatural, mystery and some horror, too. It's a great mix, in my opinion.
This book begins the story of Gemma Doyle, a young British girl who has been raised in India. The untimely (and suspicious) daath of her mother leads Gemma's father to send her back to England to attend Spence Academy, a tony finishing school for young ladies. Gemma is not your shrinking violet and makes for a great herione -- she bucks societal molds for young ladies, and refuses to do what's expected of her -- in this world, and the other she explores throughout the series.
It's difficult to do this review justice while still staying spoiler-free... so, I guess I'll just say, read this book. Make sure you have its sequels, "Rebel Angels" and "A Sweet Far Thing" on hand for when you finish, because this is a series you'll want to read one right after another.
I've been on a young adult fiction kick lately so I was more than happy to pick this book up after reading glowing recommendations for it. The short of it is...this book is young adult not just for marketing purposes. The story is very juvenile...teens should love it as it has a bit of sex/lesbian undertones, catty and petty fighting, and all the high school drama a Victorian Boarding school can muster, but for an adult...ehhh. I was very disappointed. Won't be moving on to the other books.
This book was so terrible I was not only unable to finish it, I actually couldn't get beyond the first 100 pages(which almost never happens). The author did not seem to have any real knowledge of the social attitudes and behaviors of British 19th century life (in England or in India) and so I found the behavior of the characters, and the descriptions of places, distractingly ridiculous. Read The Secret Garden or A Passage to India for a much clearer picture of British Colonial life in India. And if you are looking for a fun Gothic romp I highly recommend any of Louisa May Alcott's Gothic novels (all published under a pen name during her life).
Interesting book. I like the strong women characters in this book. It was good to see the main characters rebelling against the typically male-dominant society of the Victorian time. It was sometimes hard to read through certain sections, but overall, I liked it.
Kayla B. reviewed A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle, Bk 1) on
Helpful Score: 1
I adore this book! It is one of my all time favorites. The story is beautiful and touching and the characters are brilliant and very easy to relate to. There is enough historical fiction thrown in with magic and secrecy that it all came together and made you feel like you were living through the main character. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in an intriguing, magical story.
I really liked this book. As a mom reading it, I thought is was a great book for girls. I will definitely pick up the next book and read it. There's a little bit of mystery, magic, dark themes, love, and friendship. Even though this is sit in the 1800s, there is still plenty of relevance for kids today and some of the issues they deal with. But it should make young girls appreciate how much the world has changed for women in that teens are no longer foisted on to older men just because of money or social standing, no longer have to take classes in etiquette, needlepoint, or wear the constricting clothes that women were forced to wear back then.
My daughter has no interest in reading this book but she didn't want to read Twilight either and I got her hooked on those books.
As Gemma discovers her powers she brings her friends at boarding school along... but something more powerful is after her and wants her to stop. I really enjoyed this fast moving story. I'm sorry it wasn't longer! I can't wait to read the next one!
Very good read. I enjoyed it in my middle age and I would have enjoyed it when I was a young adult, too. Fascinating female characters whose personalities grew and changed, as we all do, throughout the story.
Sixteen year old Gemma Doyle didn't grow up like other girls her age. She spent most of her childhood in India with her mother. But when she has a vision involving her mother's death, and that vision turns out to be true, Gemma is sent to England and enrolled at Spence Academy. When she arrives at Spence she is snubbed by the popular Felicity and her best friend Pippa, and even Ann her dumpy new roommate brushes her off. Things don't start looking up for Gemma until she blackmails Felicity in order to get her and Ann into Felicity's clique.
Gemma becomes distressed when she is confronted by Kartik, the handsome young man who was following her in India, and he warns her about fighting off the visions. If she doesn't fight off the visions something terrible will happen, but what could possibly be so terrible if they lead her to the old diary of a former Spence girl, and even to her mother?
A Great and Terrible Beauty has a slow build up that could be boring, but instead is a dark and mysterious page turner. Libba Bray has some exquisite writing in parts of this book, and then sometimes it falls flat. Even though the reform/boarding/finishing school is kind of played out in the Young Adult genre (I guess the lack of parents make story writing more exciting), this one is kept interesting by being set in Victorian Britain. I loved reading about the girls venturing through the realms, and into a different reality where anything they wish can be theirs. The side effects of using the magic afterwards are dangerous, and the girls wanting to go back for more is reminiscent of a drug addiction. I really enjoyed this story, and I can't wait to read Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy.
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I had a hard time deciding at first how I felt about this book and came dangerously close to shelving it several times, but ultimately, I'm glad I stuck it out.
Gemma Doyle is an interesting protagonist. I've read a lot of commentary that says that she's unusually and, some would say, unbelievably wise for not only her age but the time time period she calls home. I found that I enjoyed Gemma's voice as a narrator quite a bit, but I found it hard to understand why she would want to be friends (other than out of necessity) with the other girls at Spence Academy. First impressions of the girls at Spence were as follows: Ann, the doormat, Felicity, the conniver, Pippa, the wannabe, Elizabeth and Cecily, the sheeple. None of them seemed like appealing prospects for friends, especially to someone who comes off as savvy as Gemma does in the beginning of the book.
As I kept reading, though, I realized that the personas that were given to the girls at Spence were necessary for the theme that the book is trying to convey. In a way, the girls at Spence represent a spectrum of personalities. Felicity is one extreme, flamboyant and carefree, but assured in the fact that her family and social position can buy her way out of pretty much any scrape she might get into. As far as Felicity is concerned, there's no such thing as a check her mouth wrote that her butt can't cash.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ann. Downtrodden, ignored, and screaming out for sensation and companionship, Ann's low opinion of herself is only reinforced by the expectation that she's going to school for no other reason than to be able to find employment later on, probably as a nanny to future generations of Spence Academy students. The world of society balls and prosperous marriages that awaits the other girls at Spence is pretty much off limits to Ann; the social conventions that Felicity enjoys defying are the same ones that smother Ann at every turn.
In the middle somewhere, then, is Gemma. Gemma is aware that the high society version of a short drop and a sudden stop are what awaits them; watching Pippa struggle with the notion of marrying an old guy with whom she shares no interests simply to save herself from the ruin her father's gambling is ensuring only reinforces that idea. But what else exists for them? Servitude, like that which waits for Ann? Tedious, anonymous indolence, like that which appears to wait for Felicity? A sham of a marriage to a guy that makes Bartleby Bumble look like a caricature, like that which waits for Pippa? Gemma isn't satisfied with any of that, but doesn't see any other way out for much of the book.
The theme of choice is easily my favorite one of the many present throughout the book and is an element that I found way more interesting than any of the supernatural ones. The escapades in the realms teach each of the girls that they are responsible for the choices in their own lives, no matter how small or how mundane. The power of choice is a tremendous responsiblitiy, though, and that's a lesson that each of the girls has to learn in her own time. The entire book can also be taken as a commentary on the choices that women were forced to make during the Victorian times, and what choices were and were not available to them. The theme of power, and what it takes to achieve power, is a strong message as well.
A Great and Terrible Beauty has the definite burden of being the first in a series. The premise is incredibly interesting, the prose is beautiful and engaging, but there are a lot of loose ends and facets of the story that weren't fully explored. Be that as it may, I finished the book and was interested enough in the story to get the next two books out of the library, which I'll post about here. I'm definitely interested to see if/how my opinion of the story changes with the two additional volumes.
I'll leave you, then with a quote from my favorite character in the book, Miss Moore, the drawing teacher. I've heard that she features again in the other two books, and I sincerely hope that's true, especially if I get to read more gems like this:
'I know because I read.' She pulls back and stands, hands on hips, offering us a challenge. "May I suggest that you all read? And often. Believe me, it's nice to have something to talk about other than the weather and the Queen's health. Your mind is not a cage. It's a garden. And it requires cultivating.
Im sorry i waited so long to read this great book. I read this book in a matter of three days. I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait to read the next. It sortof reminds me of the covenant only a girls version. I enjoyed it!
Very interesting story.........but be cautions if you are looking to give this to a younger reader. If has some very suggestive parts and the characters take part in some "dark magic", if you will.
Overall it was a good book. It has the necessary twists and turns to keep you reading. It has murders, magic, sacrifices, and a bit of sexual content; but still somehow in the the end it seemed to be a little childish for my liking.
I read this book a few years back and it was a really good read. The two books that follow don't fail to impress either. Following the story of Gemma and her friends allows the reader to enter into their magical reprieve along with them. It is the perfect mixture of dark and magic to captivate the imagination and with the spice of a little romance it makes for a great page turner. I would recommend this book to any teen fantasy lover.
LOved this book! I just posted all 3 in the series.. all were good.. I think the 2nd and 3rd are better than the 1st but all are good.. worth reading! they are listed as young adult but I dont really see why.. they would appeal to any age.. and How miss bray writes really takes you back to the era.. I almost felt as though I was watching it all happening before me.. the book is very descriptive of the time and area, and she really makes you feel like you almost know of the subjects in the book.. so if you like books on the paranormal, magic, witches and that type of thing.. then read this book... I like all types of fantasy and horror and even some sci fi books and this one Id list as fantasy but more of a "our world at that time".. like it really could have happened .... its not another world but out world in the early 1900's I like it when a book takes up to our own world and shows how hey... there really could be things we dont know about out there and these girls ran across one of those things.....lol I wont rewrite the book jacket as you can read that in the book description.. I just want to say worth the read.. its not boring at all, and as the book go on gets even more exciting.. like a mystery and suspense rolled into a paranormal book ... each book is better than the one before it.. I hope she writes even more!
One of my favorite novels as a child was A Little Princess. This novel reads as an updated version of my childhood favorite, with added paranormal elements. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the series.
I am not sure how I felt about this book. I did not really swallow all the magic and the realms. I did not feel that the whole story line of Kartik really applied. It seemed thrown in there and maybe it will be more of an important portion in the second book. Even the tittilating dreams did not apply to the storyline and seemed just thrown in for shock value. Some of the story dragged. I felt that it was really about the friendship between the girls which felt very fragile.
Rachel C. reviewed A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle, Bk 1) on
I have to say that this was a fantastic book! My niece allowed me to read it and I was hooked! It has all the elements that you could possibly face mixed in with things that are beyond reason. The wording in this book makes you wish that you could be a part of this adventure.
Mary Jo H. reviewed A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle, Bk 1) on
The first book in the Gemma Doyle series is short and sweet. It can get boring sometimes but with magic around every corner who can be bored for long? Just beware though the next two books in this series are about 500 pages each, so be prepared for a long weekend. It's an interesting story line about a girl who doesn't think she belongs anywhere but has a problem because she's a girl living in the old times when girls where wallflowers and wives. I would recommend it to anyone.
Another for my "Simply could not finish it" shelf. I had wanted to read this book for a while. It sounded so interesting - set in Victorian England, mysterious setting, plucky heroine, etc., etc. When I saw the book CD in the library, I grabbed it. I was surprised to see it was a "Young Adult" novel - none of the ads when it came out mentioned that, but I figured, "So what! 'I Am The Messenger' is technically a 'YA' novel and I thought that was a fascinating book." Well, this book is a mess. The characters are cardboard stereotypes, they behave in ways that no sane (or insane) person would, and the mystery is ridiculous. Yeah, it supposed to be magical but there is a difference between magical and nonsensical. Sorry, but I could not get past Disk 4. (For example: And I do not believe this is a Spoiler: Where the heck does that Indian youth live between popping out and saving (or scaring)the heroine, again and again and again....)
Well written. Describes the confusion and survival involved in growing up with the selfdiscovery of coming of age. Realistic characters with realistic problems in their everyday life, aside from the supernatural. Nicely done.
A Great and Terrible Beauty is about a girl named Gemma Doyle who discovers an ancient power that endagers her and her friends. I rated this book an 8 because the author, Libba Bay, kept me engaged in the story through out every page. It was very well written and the fantasy Bay created about the world where anything is possible was very interesting. I didn't put the book down until I was finished and even then I was looking forward to the sequel.
I have the read the other reviews and honestly don't get it. I found this book to be slightly dissapointing, especially after the stellar reviews it had received. The book reads easily enough and it kept my attention, but there wasn't anything special about it. I chose it to follow the Twilight Saga, and there is no comparison. "A Great and Terrible Beauty" was a good, but by no means a great read.
OK, so I will have to try more of the series (there's only 3).
My over all impression of the first one, though, is that Ms. Bray really wanted to write a coming of age story about a Victorian girl. For some reason she thought the book needed a supernatural twist, also.
I hated the combination. This is probably because I'm so used to paranormal fiction, even historical, having a strong heroine that I immediately identify with, or who has qualities I wish I had. Gemma Doyle did not have either an immediate appeal for me, or any qualities I liked. She was a whiney, self-possessed 16 year old girl. Which is fine for a coming of age story, because we're all whiney self-possessed girls at 16. And I thought that the Gemma Doyle Trilogy was going to be primarily a paranormal historical fiction.
If I had not started the series thinking I was in for the usual paranormal fiction, I think I would have liked the book better. Now that I know to expect a story about Gemma Doyle's coming of age in the Victorian Era, I think I will enjoy the rest of the series better.
Beware! I bought A Great and Terrible Beauty thinking it would be a fun book for my daughter to read. The kind that's about 'a girl like me' she would say, that has powers, and goes on adventures. A sort of teenage fairy tale. If this is what you think, you should reconsider getting this book. It is about a young lady set the late 19th century who discovers that she is the daughter of a witch, and has those same powers herself. There are murders committed by girls at a finishing school, suicides, sacrifice to goddesses (human and animal alike), under aged drunkenness, references to sexual things, and more.