Released: December 9, 2003
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Series: Gemma Doyle #1
Rating: 4 stars
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.I’m surprised I waited so long to read this novel. After I finished reading, I ran out to get the rest of the series. A Great and Terrible Beauty has the burden of being first in the series. The premise is incredibly interesting, the writing is beautiful and engaging, but there are a lot of loose ends that weren’t fully explored. But I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds in the next two installments.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma 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 with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order.
I enjoyed all the characters - each had their own uniqueness to them and some even had a mysterious side to them. Gemma Doyle is not your typical 16 year old. Most girls her age were brought up in London’s society of gossip and lavish balls, but Gemma had an unconventional upbringing in India. She yearns to go to London, which becomes reality after a vision she has of her mother’s death comes true.
Libba Bray’s detailed description of “the realms” allowed me to visualize the place in my mind and I absolutely love that quality in a book. When Gemma and her friends find a doorway the another realm, they start their own club, The Order, and soon find themselves embarking on several adventures.
The storyline kept me hungry for more. I loved Bray’s take on the 19th century’s society, sexuality, and even teen issues that aren’t all that different from the one’s we face today. Yet the supernatural element takes A Great and Terrible Beauty to a whole other level of enjoyment.