Monday, August 21, 2006

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

It's 1895 and, after the death of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. 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 being followed by a mysterious young man, sent to warn her to close her mind against the visions.

It's at Spence that Gemma's power to attract the supernatural unfolds, as she becomes entangled with the school's most powerful girls and discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy, timeless group called The Order. Her destiny awaits...if only Gemma can believe in it.

When Gemma's mother dies after there were harsh words spoken between them, Gemma finds herself at Spence, an English boarding school whose main aim is to produce young ladies who will be prized catches during the season, and find worth husbands. Feeling incredibly lonely and ostracized, Gemma struggles to make friends and to make sense of the strange visions that she has had. As events spiral out of control, can Gemma and her friends make the correct decisions to maintain both their friendship, and their lives.

I wish I could remember where I first saw this book, so that I could thank the person who bought it to my attention. What a little gem of a book! With a tone that is moody and atmospheric, almost gothic and so fitting! The last book that I remember reading that conveyed this kind of sense of impending events was the Australian classic "Picnic at Hanging Rock".

With interesting locales (both in India and then at Spence school), the world that Gemma (and the reader) is introduced to following the tragic death of her mother is one where anything can happen, both good and bad, and is an interesting look at the consequences of getting what you think you want.

And yet, as gloomy as that may sound, there were sections of fun, delight fantasy and growing friendship between the girls. In some ways this book could be a gothic/fantasy/historical version of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants books. Both explore friendship and a growing sense of self, and are marketed as Young Adult books, although I was a little surprised at a couple of the scenes that were in this one, as I felt that it might be pushing the YA label a bit far!

The sequel to this book is already out - called "Rebel Angels", I will definitely be looking out for it to continue the adventures of Gemma and her friends.

Rating 4.5/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Leafing Through Life
Things Mean a Lot


  1. Sounds interesting. I've got it in my tbr, so I'll definitely be picking it up soon. I had forgotten why I'd bought it!

  2. I plan to read this one soon too. :)

  3. I have almost picked this up on several occasions simply because of the fantastic cover. It sounded good and am glad to hear that it meets expectations. Will have to put this on the 'to read' list.

  4. It's definitely worth the read!

  5. The cover is gorgeous but I'm only dipping my toe into YA with my first purchase being Twilight.

    I read the blurb and thought - ooooo, a dark historical romance. Ooops.


  6. Well there's a touch of romance...or more precisely maybe the potential for romance in future books!

  7. I loved this book and Rebel Angels! Among the best fantasy books I've read. Can't wait for the third book now.