'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.
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."