Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrble Beauty by Libba Bray

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster UK (2nd May 2006)

It’s 1895 and, after the death of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she has known 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 her 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.

Rating: *** (3 stars)


A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first book in Libba Bray’sGreat and Terrible Beauty trilogy.

Before I eventually bought this book from amazon, I’d seen it on the shelves in various bookstores where I’d looked at the cover and decided it wasn’t for me. However, the book appeared recently on a rec list (Sarah Rees Brennan’s Tumblr one to be exact, which you can find here) and it sounded awesome, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I found this book very hard to get into. It dragged a little for me. It also had my usual issues with a book set in a non-now period – some of the attitudes/actions of the characters were more now than circa 1800s. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t detract from the plot; it just irritated me (and yet I read and enjoy Julia Quinn, hmm . . . ) It also doesn’t happen too frequently either, but I still noticed it. I think a lot of this was to do with the fact that I struggled to become absorbed in the story – not too sure why, as I thought the premise was interesting: the book is half boarding school, half Victorian coming of age; there’s also a little twist of the fantastic in there with Gemma having visions of the future.

What I liked about the book was the mystery, the plot thread that was unravelling in the background behind Gemma and her friends that was ultimately tied to them. It was very intricate, and I liked that. I also liked the revelations that came about because of it. They hinted that the world of Great and Terrible Beauty has a lot of potential. I also like the way Bray used Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott*; it really haunted the narrative, and it was an interesting parallel to have with the story.

The ending of the book was a surprise, it also felt a little non-resolved – I assume that’s because there are two more books in the series to go. Once I became engaged in the story, which didn’t happen until half-way though unfortunately, I really enjoyed the book. It’s definitely a book to give a go if you like historical fiction with a little twist.

*If you’re interested in reading the whole poem it can be found here.

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