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A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Gemma Doyle (1)

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English (284)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (289)
Showing 1-5 of 284 (next | show all)
A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place mostly in Victorian England in a boarding school known as Spence. The many plot twist in the book keep you pulled in to it. While a few of the characters who you originally meet seem very catty and snobby towards our protagonist, Gemma Doyle, they do eventually form the bonds of a forced friendship and seem to trust each other, mainly because it is based off of secrets and their desire to be something more than what society tell them to be, and sometimes seems as if Gemma enjoys it even less because of how they tend to force her hand in decisions. It show many of Gemma's doubts and fear, especially with her own powers and what she believes she can do. It makes her relate-able and like a real person. The novel may not continuously be action packed but its pace doesn't lull one into boredom in the least. Plus her writing is wonderful and I really enjoy it, it's not too flat and not overly detailed, it's comfortable and creates an image that comes to life in your head. Though we see little of colonial India, where I assume Gemma was born, we do get a sense of what it's like and scratch the surface of the people who live there. The few drawbacks were its sorta of racist/classist comments laid throughout the book, but that was to be expected due to the setting of the novel, lower class women were looked down upon and made fun of, and Romani were called gypsies and had several stereotypes slapped onto them because they were not liked as well as how people from India were talked about by the upper class. There is slightly a romance to the book, but its more of an undertone and doesn't really take much attention away from the story. Overall, I really enjoyed this book.

You can read my full review of the book here ( )
  IrisCollins | Aug 20, 2014 |
I read this two months ago. I know I read it all within a week's time, making me think I devoured it. And yet I can't tell you a thing about it. That doesn't bode well for a review, if I *could* remember.
  maedb | Jul 30, 2014 |
I just couldn't bring myself to care about what happened to any of the characters. Once I'd gotten a hundred pages in and still didn't care about the outcome, I gave up. ( )
  bookwormam | Jul 8, 2014 |
Gemma Doyle is an independent young woman raised in India, struggling with mysteriously prophetic visions and her adjustment to Victorian era England. She is warned to suppress her visions by a strange but handsome young man who followed her from India, but she persists until she is eventually able to enter the world of her visions. This gorgeous world gifts Gemma and her friends with an intoxicating power, one which comes with both dangers and responsibilities.

This beautiful world, with it’s hidden dangers and small intersections with real life, fits incredibly well with the Victorian Era setting. It complemented the authors’ immersive portrayal of society, without overwhelming it. The plot concepts involved weren’t anything completely new, but they were put together in new and interesting ways. The magical world was a world all it’s own and locations were described so vividly I could picture them as though I’d already seen them in a movie.

The main character, Gemma Doyle, was also very well done. She very rarely made decisions that seemed silly and even when she did, she was driven by the perfectly natural concerns of a teenage girl trying to fit in. When interacting with her mother, she does come across as a bit of a brat, but most of the time she is a strong, independent young woman you can relate to. Finally, plot pacing was spot on. Action started early and the mysteries were drawn out just long enough that I was always excited to find out what happened next. Another point in it’s favor – as soon as I was done, I rushed to the library to get the rest of the Gemma Doyle trilogy

originally published on Doing Dewey.
( )
  DoingDewey | Jun 29, 2014 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Gemma Doyle grew up in India, but after her mother commits suicide and her father becomes a laudanum addict, she’s sent to a finishing school in England. This is Victorian England, so at Spence Academy Gemma will be instilled with “grace, charm, and beauty” as she learns how to be a proper wife, mother, and hostess. Virtue, virginity, and the avoidance of scandal are of the utmost importance so that the ladies of Spence Academy will, upon graduation, reach their highest potential: to make a good marriage.

But A Great and Terrible Beauty is a gothic novel, which means that there is less grace, charm, and beauty than one should expect at Spence Academy. Instead, there are hidden secrets, dark rumors, strange disappearances and deaths, fearful servants, and a creepy old East Wing that inexplicably burned down 20 years ago. And, most importantly, each of the girls we get to know at Spence Academy has some sort of tragic past that makes her feel alone and unloved.

When Gemma gets to school she finds that the two most popular girls, Felicity and Pippa, are mean and nasty and, though she first stands up to them when they pick on Ann, Gemma’s weak snively roommate, the four girls are soon best friends when they discover that Gemma has access to the realms, a fantasy world where they have the power to make their dreams come true. Predictably, the girls learn that magic is hard to control and that it has a terrible price.

Overall, I enjoyed A Great and Terrible Beauty while recognizing that it wasn’t a great book. That’s because I listened to the audio version which was read by Josephine Bailey. Her voice is gorgeous and her English accents greatly contributed to the Victorian feel. I believe I’d enjoy anything read by Josephine Bailey.

When I consider the actual story, though, I have some issues with A Great and Terrible Beauty. First is that, without exception, all of the teenage girls are unlikable. While Gemma isn’t too bad by herself, it’s hard to think highly of her after she chooses her friends. Perhaps she didn’t have much to pick from, but we only meet a few of the schoolgirls, so we don’t know who else was a possibility. It was hard to believe in their shallow friendship and it reminded me of the unpleasant and selfish girls in the 1988 movie Heathers. I will admit, though, that Gemma and Felicity are clever and funny. Even though I didn’t like them much, their witty remarks often made me smile.

I understood and appreciated Libba Bray’s repudiation of the social mores of Victorian England — arranged marriages, priggish behavior, vapid and powerless women, complete abdication to men — but I had a hard time believing that Gemma and her friends, as products of that culture (and enrolled in a finishing school), would be so enlightened. Their obsession with personal power didn’t feel real.

The fantastical element, which is perhaps the most important part of a fantasy novel, also didn’t feel real or well thought out. The realms didn’t have consistent rules and there was a lack of logic and coherence. In fact, I got the impression that Libba Bray wanted to write a story about four tragic teenage girls in a Victorian boarding school who find power and that she threw in the magic stuff as the source of power, making this less of a fantasy novel and more of a historical novel about girls finding themselves. Ms. Bray’s audio afterword seems to confirm my suspicions.

Overall, A Great and Terrible Beauty is neither great nor terrible and will likely be quite entertaining for a teenage girl who likes gothic novels and doesn’t care about the issues I’ve raised here. I did enjoy the audio version despite my complaints, but I give Josephine Bailey a lot of the credit for that. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Libba Brayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, JosephineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot...


But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.


And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

--from "The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

For Barry and Josh
First words
June 21, 1895
Bombay, India

"Please tell me that's not going to be part of my birthday dinner this evening."
But forgiveness... I'll hold on to that fragile slice of hope and keep it close, remembering that in each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice.
I'm sorry, Gemma. But we can't live in the light all of the time. You have to take whatever light you can hold into the dark with you.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385732317, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:33 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

After the suspicious death of her mother in 1895, sixteen-year-old Gemma returns to England, after many years in India, to attend a finishing school where she becomes aware of her magical powers and ability to see into the spirit world.

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