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A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
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A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Gemma Doyle (1)

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English (280)  Italian (2)  Catalan (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (286)
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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 |
I can see why this book earned such acclaim. It's a fast young adult read that blends teenage angst with a gothic, creepy Victorian boarding school setting. Add into that dark magic, murder, sexual awakenings, and there's a whole lot going on. I did find major plot elements to be fairly predictable but there were some nice twists along the way, including the surprising friendship between four girls who start as vicious enemies. ( )
1 vote ladycato | Mar 23, 2014 |
This was super quick as I listened to it in the car and Atlanta traffic decided yesterday it would be fun to make me sit in my car and stare at never-ending bridge construction. (Not that I found it frustrating or anything.) Ahem, anyway, this is a light YA read. I don't often read YA, but my son and I read Going Bovine together a few years back and I was awed at its quality, so I picked this up for us to listen to together. My son determined it was too much of a "girl book" and told me to tackle it without him. I guess it is a girl book insofar as it is about girls, but it is about love, and loss, and loneliness, and the barriers we erect to hide our secrets. It is about ghosts, and magic, and mystery, and sexual awakening. It is about survival. This is most definitely aimed at a tween/teen audience, and for those readers I recommend it unreservedly -- even for the boys. ( )
  Narshkite | Mar 10, 2014 |
3.5 stars. Gemma Doyle is sent to a boarding school in England after her mother has been murdered in India. She has visions she has no control over. As she makes new friends at school, they are all drawn in to the mystery surrounding a diary that Gemma gets her hands on, that she knows has something to do with her visions. As the girls play around with the magic they don't know enough about, can they keep themselves from getting into too much trouble?

I liked it and I do plan to continue reading the series. ( )
  LibraryCin | Feb 11, 2014 |
Gemma is a normal girl living a normal life, or at least thats what she thought. When Gemma discovers she can enter the realms her entire world is turned upside down. Even worse the power to enter the realms is valuable especially because they have not been entered in along time, its Gemmas job to fix them. If worrying about fixing the realms isn’t enough Gemma has acquired an enemy because of her powers, and this enemy will stop at nothing to get rid of Gemma. Will Gemma be able to survive?
“A Great and Terrible Beauty” is the story of Gemma Doyle. A girl whose life is normal, like all other girls Gemma’s dream is to go to London. Little does she know doing so will happen in the worst possible way. One day Gemma has a vision, her mothers death. The doctors say she died from cholera, but only Gemma knows the truth. She took her own life so she would not fall into the hands of Circe, the biggest enemy of the order ( At this point Gemma does not know it was Circe she only saw a shadow devour her mother). All Gemma has let form her mother is her amulet, the crescent eye.Through all of this horror Gemma’s dream finale comes true she is to go to London for boarding school. When Gemma first gets there she is an outcast and her visions continue. Not a great start. Then Gemma finds Mary Doward's diary it begins to explains the realms and what her powers are capable of. When one of her teachers takes them to the caves to observe the drawing on the cave wall questions come up about who drew them. This begins a discussion about the order things start connecting for Gemma about the realms. Soon though Gemma begins getting warnings about the realms. She disregards them though and with her new group of friend she travels to the realms. Are the realms truly a beautiful perfect place or will they be the downfall of Gemma and her friends?
“A Great and Terrible Beauty” is a great book Libba Bray is an amazing author and did a beautiful job on this book. She does a great job creating suspense, she always has you wanting more, this book is near impossible to put down. It is a great book full of adventure and suspense. The details are incredible creating a truly beautiful book. I would recommend this book to any middle school or high school aged girl. ( )
  br14dabu | Jan 9, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Libba Brayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, JosephineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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

Dedication
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."
Quotations
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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