Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty

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A British girl uncovers the mystery of her mother’s death — and discovers powers she never knew she possessed — in this engrossing, imaginative Victorian-era novel by Libba Bray.

Two months after her mother’s sudden and puzzling suicide, Gemma Doyle travels from India, where she was raised, to England for her new life at an all-girls preparatory school. At Spence Academy, Gemma feels dispirited by the stringent etiquette and her classmates’ cruel pecking order, but she finds herself befriended by a group of girls with aspirations of being more than “proper ladies.” Aside from school troubles, Gemma is also preoccupied with nightmarish visions, and following her discovery of a long-lost diary that describes “the Order,” she learns that she has supernatural abilities that link her to the spirit world, her mother, and an evil force that wants to usurp Gemma’s powers. And it’s almost too late before Gemma realizes that she holds the key to her own and her friends’ destinies.

Weaving Merchant/Ivory-type scenes with magical turns of events, Bray’s tale is hard to put down. The author’s intriguing look at 19th-century society, sexuality, and teen issues make the book a compelling read that will appeal to both history and “chick lit” fans; yet with the deft inclusion of fantastical elements, Bray takes her novel to another level that’s sure to grab an even wider audience. An unconventional book that entertains to the end and stays with you long after.

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First of all, see that beautiful picture in the post header? It’s made by Bev Johnson. You should totally check out the project – the pictures bring the book to life!

For instance, this picture of the characters:

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See how the expression on their faces alone conveys their character? Please go check the site out!

Man, that was a dark book. Gemma Doyle is a sixteen-year-old English girl who lives in India until her mother is murdered – just after Gemma sees a vision of her mother being killed. She moves to London weighed with guilt that she killed her mother and never got to say that she loved her before she died.
She joins Spence’s finishing schools where girls are trained to become good housekeepers and wives.

-We are all looking glasses, we girls, existing only to reflect their images back to them as they'd like to be seen. Hollow vessels of girls to be rinsed of our own ambitions, wants, and

She is forced to hang around with Ann Bradshaw, who is treated terribly because of her status as a scholarship student and an orphan. Ann is bullied mercilessly by Felicity Worthington and Pippa Cross (her sidekick). Gemma, like all cliché heroines, doesn’t just stand up for Ann – she gives it back to them like a pro. Felicity takes an immediate liking to Gemma and they become unlikely friends.

Felicity was rather modern and unabashedly forward which made the book more interesting. The book explores sexuality and brings about the existence of modern ideas in the Victorian era.

The four of them are ambitious. They crave understanding, love, beauty, and power which they decide to achieve together by starting The Order, a former occult Miss Moore (their Art teacher told them about). Little do they know who Gemma is and what she’s actually capable of.

“They were misled. Betrayed by their own stupid hopes. Things couldn’t be different for them because they weren’t special after all.
So life took them, led them, and they went along, you see?
They faded before their own eyes, till they were nothing more than living ghosts, haunting each other with what could be.
What can’t be? There, now. Isn’t that the scariest story you’ve ever heard?”

Gemma gets hold of an old diary who belonged to Mary Dowd, a former student at Spence Academy who mysteriously dies in a fire along with her friend, Sarah and Mrs. Spence. Mary, who was a part of the ‘Order’, a group formed by women blessed with magic, possessed powers similar to that of Gemma and had written detailed descriptions of her rendezvous in this ‘magical realm’ along with Sarah in the diary. When Sarah starts losing this power, she gets enraged and makes a pact with a demon to obtain the key to frolick in the realm whenever she wanted. In exchange, she had to bind him to her  (to bring him into the world) through a human sacrifice. Terrified of the imbalance this would create, the realm is closed for good and the Order disappear without a trace.

With Gemma’s help, the four girls open this unknown realm which is filled with possibilities and hope – here, Gemma could talk to her mother, Felicity could be strong and powerful, Ann could be beautiful and stunning, and Pippa could find her true love.

“ Reality is a state of mind.”

Then there was Kartik, an Indian who is a part of a brotherhood, Rakshana. He keeps watching Gemma and warning her not to ‘open the realms’. And someone by the name of ‘Circe’ is after her now – little do they know about the demons they have awakened at the cost of living their dreams.
I loved the book – the dark overlay throughout and how we understand the characters slowly. However, this book didn’t quite click for me. Maybe because I found some scenes extremely predictable and obvious. Otherwise, it was a great read and I’m looking forward to starting the next book in the series!

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Did you guys read the book? Where are your thoughts?

shameeka

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