Written by Libba Bray
Published December, 2003 by Simon & Schuster
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Witches
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It's 1895 and, after the death of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped from the she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true. Gemma finds he reception a chilly one.
She's not completely alone, though... she's being followed by a mysterious young man, sent to warn her to close her mind against the visions.
It's at Spence that Gemma's power to attract the supernatural unfolds as she becomes entangled with the school's most powerful girls and discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy, timeless group called The Order. Her destiny awaits... if only Gemma can believe in it.
It’s been six years since my last venture into the ‘Gemma Doyle Trilogy’ and I couldn’t wait to re-read the series from a reviewers point of view. Years on, the first installment still holds an exceptional amount of magic. With it’s complex characters and relationships, poignant writing and mixed sense of wonder and danger, A Great & Terrible Beauty survives the test of time and firmly holds on to its position as a personal favourite.
Buddy re-reading with Hanna @ Luminous Words
There are so many elements of A Great & Terrible Beauty that make it a lasting favourite of mine. I’m not sure if it’s the flawed and wonderful characters, the strength and humour of our heroine, the dangerously beautiful sense of magic in the realms or the Victorian-era England we’re swept away to. I just know that I love it all and times haven’t changed that.
I must be honest; when I first read this book back in 2007, I was not a historical YA reader. I had qualms about diving into this series but I was persuaded by a friends love for it and decided to go for it. The first half of the novel bored me a little back then, but I was soon blown away. The series became a fierce love of mine from then on, and I attribute this series and Libba Bray’s expertise to forming the foundations for my love of historical YA.
A lot of books I re-read from this period in my life don’t hold the same magic anymore. A Great & Terrible Beauty does, in fact it exceeds it. From the very first page I was hooked and drawn back into the love and magic of this series. Libba Bray writes flawlessly, lyrically and with such her own sense of style. Gemma Doyle, our protagonist, is such a fierce leading lady that’s so likeable it hurts.
The despicable Felicity Worthington retains her ‘badness’, but somehow you grow to love her. Felcity is a favourite of mine, on par if not above Gemma herself, and I couldn’t help but love her wicked and charming attitude toward the world. She is a strong female character and together with Gemma I feel they could tackle anything.
The droll Ann Bradshaw was never a character I liked, and it was the same this time around. However, she brings a certain essence to the group that’s integral to the flow of events and despite my disdain for her, I love the way she, Gemma, Felicity and Pippa come together. It’s a weird and wonderful friendship that works and evolves from the first to the last page.
I also love the relationship between Gemma and Kartik. While we don’t see a lot of interaction from the two in this book, it sets up the foundations on attraction. It’s a slow-building relationship and by no means the focus of the novel.
The world of magic and the Realms is incredible. It’s a dream world that’s dark and inviting, beautiful and strange. You can’t help but be swept away by all of its delights. Here the girls are free from their bonds as ‘proper young ladies’ and you really see their characters and relationships grow.
I can’t stress enough just how much I adore Libba Bray’s writing in the ‘Gemma Doyle Trilogy’. I’ve read her other novel, Beauty Queens, and her style is just so vastly different when switching between genres. I much prefer her historical fantasy writing, as in this book, so I can’t wait to read The Diviners after I finish my re-read of Gemma’s story.
Recommended to: If you haven’t given this book a chance before, what better time than now? The ‘Gemma Doyle Trilogy’ sets the benchmark for YA historical fantasy and makes it very hard for others of its kind to come close to its sheer brilliance.