Series: Gemma Doyle #1
Published by Simon & Schuster on 12/09/2003
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
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).