Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Book: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release date: December 9, 2003
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) 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.

First impressions: Wow. The first few chapters of this book are gorgeous. Gemma is a feisty 16 British girl living in India with her parents, and witnesses the tragic death of her mother under mysterious circumstances she has a difficult time processing. We don’t know what Gemma saw, but it was scary and strange and compelling.

Lasting impressions: I think the summary says it best. This book is complicated. The friends Gemma makes in her new English boarding school are difficult to like, because we don’t know if we can truly trust them. If nothing else, this book is very suspenseful.

Conflicting impressions: Since the main characters were not that likable, I had a hard time getting into the middle of this book. The story is so dark and strange that for me, I just couldn’t get into it.

Overall impressions: Full disclosure: I skimmed the last third of this book. I couldn’t really stand to read it in-depth because I was discouraged by Gemma’s nasty “friends.” Still, I wanted to know what would happen when Gemma’s visions drew more people into them and how the mysteries would be solved. The ending delivers quite the punch, and I’m sure is terrifically satisfying for readers that connect more with the characters. Though I couldn’t fully engage with the material, I did appreciate the unique and mysterious plot.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Want a different perspective? Check out this review by The Elliott Review.

7 thoughts on “Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

  1. I was really looking forward to this review! I agree with you. I had a very hard time liking the characters and "settling" into the story when I didn't know who to trust. I think I'd like to give the book another try sometime, but that might be because I love the covers so much 😛

  2. The cover is gorgeous, and Gemma herself is a remarkable heroine who I really loved. I don't know if I'll read this one again, but I am contemplating the next books simply because I liked Gemma so much.

  3. Though I love the cover(s) and title for this one, it is one that I just can't get myself to pick up because of the reviews I've read for it. Every review I've read kind of tells me the premise is better than the story. Plus, I can't skim books to save my life, so I'd rather not read them. LOLI'm glad you found something to appreciate despite strangeness.

  4. I have to say that I agree with so much of what you've put in here – especially about the characters being unlikable. But I really loved the rest of the trilogy. Honestly, it is very strange and dark, but I do think that they get better as they continue and, while you see a lot of the dark sides of characters, they generally have some redeeming qualities. They are all kind of strange reads, but I don't know! They just got me somehow… Definitely cried at the end of the last one 😦

  5. @Missie – I'm a master skimmer. I just have this thing where I can't put down a book I started. :D@Emma – I do love Gemma, so I think I'll give the next one a try. Glad you're posting again, btw!

  6. It's been a few years since I've read this series, but I do remember having a hard time getting into it at first. The second, Rebel Angels, was my favorite, though, so hopefully it picks up for you if you continue!

  7. I have yet to read a Libba Bray book but I would really love to sometime! I was thinking maybe this series would be a good place to start, though it's a bummer to hear you didn't connect with the characters as that is very important to me as well. Hmm, not sure what I'm going to do yet…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s