A Great and Terrible Beauty
Released: 9th December, 2003
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.
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. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.
What I like: The characters were all very well done, and the imagery provided by the details in the book were vivid to me. Pippa is a seemingly vain girl, yet we learn underneath her beauty she doesn't want to be married off to someone she doesn't love just so she has a good social standing. Ann wants nothing more than to be beautiful and loved and to find a good husband, not become the governess of her cousins just because they got her into Spence. Felicity wants to break away from the social constructs that she's been raised in and seeks to defy her mother while yearning for her father to visit her. And Gemma is conflicted through most of the story because she just wants her mother back, and doubts her own abilities with her new found powers.
What I didn’t like: Sometimes the descriptions, while lovely, seemed rather unnecessary to me, and had I not realized the nature of the "friendship" the girls had, I would have said it was unrealistic since Felicity and her group of friends not only mocked Gemma when she arrived, but bullied Ann around as well solely because of her social standing and the fact Ann was there not because she had the money but on a scholarship provided by her cousins! Other than this, there wasn't much that was notable that I was miffed about with the book.
Overall review: A Great and Terrible Beauty is a wonderful story set in Victorian England. We get the elements of what we perceive to be true of what we know about society back in that age and Bray's lovely writing gives you pictures of what the world she has dropped Gemma into. With genuine doubts that would be normal of a girl in her standings at her age, she feels like a real person and someone who is very relatable in a sense. She endures many hardships in the first book, even doubting her own abilities. There's a lot of growth involved in her character in this book alone. I have no doubt that the next book will be just as enjoyable to read.
Recommend?: Yes indeed! It was a very lovely book and a very enjoyable read!
Goodreads: 3.8/5 Amazon: 4.2/5 Barnes&Nobles: 4.5/5 BookDepository: —/5
My Rating: 4.8/5