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.
The first book in the Gemma Doyle series came out YEARS ago and I’ve been ogling its gorgeous cover ever since. This year I finally got around to BUYING the books in the series, and now – as the year is in its final quarter – I can finally say I’ve started to read it AND have been introduced to the wonderful writing of Libba Bray.
The main thing that called me to this book (if we’re not counting the cover and all its gorgeousness) was the fact that it takes place in 1895 at a boarding school. I adore historical fiction novels and was immediately swept up in the writing and the school the instant I started reading. I was also pleased to read about Gemma’s upbringing and how it didn’t take place in the magical city of London, but in India with her mother. Continue reading