Audio Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Audio Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba BrayA Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Series: Gemma Doyle #1
Published by Simon & Schuster on 12/09/2003
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

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.


I have been wanting to read A Great and Terrible Beauty for years.  I can’t count the number of times I have checked out the book from the library, only to have it sit in a pile of books, unopened.  I finally managed to read (via audiobook) A Great and Terrible Beauty, and I have to say, it wasn’t what I expected.  Although I had heard many wonderful things about this series, I didn’t go in with too high of expectations.  I went in thinking, okay this is going to be a well-written, interesting story.  And although that was true, I can’t say I loved this book.

My main issue with this book is that I really didn’t like any of the characters.  I often hear that liking a MC shouldn’t be a requirement to enjoy a book, but it is for me.  If I don’t really like the MC, it is really hard for me to enjoy the book.  The protagonist, Gemma, is certainly a well-developed character.  You really get to know who she is.  But I just wasn’t really invested in her.  I don’t know why she became friends with Pippa, Anne, and Felicity.  I mean, they were so awful to her when she first arrived at Spence, and even when they became friends, they weren’t that nice.

And that brings me to the secondary characters.  I really didn’t like Pippa, Anne or Felicity.  And I can’t imagine anyone didn’t realize that Felicity was going to cause all sorts of problems later on in the book.  I wouldn’t have trusted Felicity as far as I could throw her (and let me just say I have arms like spaghetti – not all skinny, but no strength).  I couldn’t even like Anne (sort of an underdog with no money or connections) because she never stood up for Gemma, or even for herself.  Anne just wanted to please Pippa and Felicity.

That’s not to say that these four girls (Gemma, Anne, Pippa, and Felicity) didn’t have some redeeming qualities.  They are all dealing with situations that make them very unhappy.  You learn that being a young woman living in Victorian England pretty much sucked.  This is another thing that made it hard for me to love this book.  It was just so depressing.  Well, not too depressing, but more depressing than I like it a book.

But, I do think the writing was stellar, as was the pacing.  The story was very interesting, and I thought it was pretty unique.  I like that it was historical fiction with paranormal elements thrown in.  I don’t see too many of those books floating around.  So, if you are one of the few people who hasn’t read this book, I do encourage you to give it a try.  Just because it wasn’t a favorite of mine, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t love it.  I know lots of people do!  I just can’t get into books where I don’t connect with the MC.  I don’t think I will read the rest of the Gemma Doyle series, but I do still want to look into Bray’s other  books (particularly Beauty Queens).


8 Responses to “Audio Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray”

  1. Susan

    See, I LOVED the Gemma Doyle trilogy with Rebel Angels (book 2) being my favorite. AGATB was hard to get into at first, but it picked up for me about 1/2 through and I read the rest of the series pretty fast.

    I also read Beauty Queens and honestly it was too silly for me. It’s supposed to be a dark comedy, but it was just too over the top. You might like it though!

  2. Liesel Hill

    Great review! Haven’t read this one and haven’t actually seen too many reviews, though it seems like the ones I have seen have been mixed. I really love the title of this book, so it’s too bad it’s not better. Thanks for the honesty! 😀

  3. Jen

    See, I feel like the odd one out. I LOVED this entire series. Granted, the books did get better with the second and third installments. But oh, man. No one can world build like Libba Bray. These books were phenomenal, but I’ve definitely noticed they’re not for everyone!

    • Quinn

      I think a lot of people liked this series. Libba Bray is a wonderful writer, I just had a hard time really caring about any of the characters.

  4. Candice

    I really loved this series, but see your points entirely. I wasn’t in love with Gemma, nor did I particularly like the other characters, but I think I got them. I wanted to see them develop and play out; essentially I became invested in them, their developments, and their stories. However, this is not a series I would suggest persevering through. If you didn’t enjoy the first book, I wouldn’t expect the second one to change your mind in the slightest bit. The rest were a little out there. Hopefully Beauty Queens is more your style! I haven’t read it, but would love to one day!

  5. thelibrarianreads

    I for one liked the whole series much better than the first book. The characters aren’t easy to like. But you’ll slowly get to know them (and their issues) over the course of the three books. They’re interesting gals. I for one would suggest trying book 2. Though I loved Beauty Queens more than this series. I just think Bray gets better and better with each book!

  6. Kim

    This is one of my favorite series. I understand your point about not liking the characters much. I felt the same way but liked AGATB enough to read the second book. After the second book things feel into place for me. I think book 2 and 3 really turned it around for me and made me fall in love with the series as a whole.

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