Historical Fiction with a Magical Twist
Gemma has a vision of her mother's death which comes true. She moves from India to England, where she is enrolled in a boarding school with a burned up East Wing, snobby peers and an outcast roommate. She finds that a boy from India, Kartik, has followed her to England, and he warns her about her visions which continue to baffle, frighten and intrigue her.
She forms a group with a few of the girls from her school and they call themselves the Order, after the mysterious organization somehow tied to a strange journal and her own dead mother. But as Gemma delves deeper into her own abilities and includes others in her secret, she puts herself and everyone else at risk.
Once again, I've found myself surprised that I've enjoyed a historical fiction so much! Despite Gemma and her peers living in a different time with different issues and worries, I was able to connect with the characters and care about what they were going through, and I feel like this made this book all the better. I was often really angry at what they had to deal with, especially since they lived in a time when women were treated like less and their wishes were ignored. I did dislike some of the characters, for example, Gemma's brother for being so misogynistic and snobby, but on the plus side, the author did a great job of making me feel like I was in the era that Gemma and the others were living in.
I feel like there was a lot of suspense in this book and that kept me reading. I really wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters, both in their normal lives and in terms of the powers and realms of which Gemma had introduced to them. Their personal situations were just as gripping as the mystical dilemmas they had to sort out, and because of this I was reading this book whenever I could!
While the writing style took some time to get used to, I found it flowed extremely well and that Gemma's voice as a narrator was entertaining and easy to follow. Her emotions, especially considering her mother's death, her family in general and her friends' problems were well conveyed and made the situations seem more real and believable. There were some humorous parts within the story as well, like when the group uses their new powers to prank others, and this provided a nice break and variety from the general dark atmosphere of the story.
There wasn't really much romance within the novel except for a few minor scenes. However, I don't feel that they were very relevant to the plot. I usually prefer reading books with lots of romance but this one entertained me even without a romantic aspect which I am very impressed with. I'm glad that I already own the second book, and if I didn't it would absolutely be on my list of sequels to buy as soon as possible.
I definitely recommend this book! YA readers and those who like historical fiction should read this. If you like books about magic and mystery and you want something that will keep you hooked, this book is for you.
This review can also be found at http://fortheloveofbooksreviews.blogspot.ca/2016/08/a-great-and-terrible-beauty-by-libba.html
Gemma is a good narrator with an entertaining voice
This book really keeps you reading! It's rich and full of amazing world-building. It doesn't insult your intelligence and hooks you in. One of my top books ever!
I honestly did not expect to like this novel as much as I did. I picked it up because I was a bit bored, coming off finishing the Beautiful Creatures series, and looking for something just as captivating. I had to sigh within the first couple of chapters. I mean it almost seemed like there was going to be insta-love (which I CAN NOT stand) because of the way Gemma described Kartik. This was not the case. After the first time seeing him, she does not remain overly obsessed as some characters in other books (*coughs*FifthWave*coughs*) do. She acknowledges that she likes him but does not try to pursue a relationship with him like a spoiled teenage girl. Which brings me to my second point, that Gemma was not your typical YA teenage girl character. She was great, and though the other girls seemed to be using her she did stay true to herself for the most part. Overall a good read (:
I always recommend a book because there's always someone who will like it. But for me this wasn't a read the I enjoyed too much. Maybe I'm just not a Bray fan because I didn't really like Beauty Queens either. For this book though I liked the premise and the characters but I think the story wasn't captivating, there wasn't much action and I don't know I just wasn't pulled in too much ever.
Improved with a re-read
(General disclaimer: This is the third-and-a-halfth time I’ve read this book, so this review is the result of several years’ worth of musings on Gemma Doyle and her story, an attempt to step away from my initial impressions and think more critically.)
I was thirteen when I first read this book. A Great and Terrible Beauty was probably the first true “young adult” novel I read, aside from Meg Cabot. I was enthralled with this novel at the time. Back in those ancient days, paranormal fiction for young adults wasn’t the monolith that it is today—Twilight was still in its infancy. (Vampires? Bah, who wants to read about those guys?) Libba Bray’s dark, sensual treatment of magic was something I, as a middle-schooler, had never read before, or honestly thought possible. I also have to admit that the attraction between Kartik and Gemma was a bit more risque that I was used to. Neither Laura Ingalls Wilder or J.R.R. Tolkien wrote scenes that featured racy, sexual dreams. Hah! I was only thirteen, guys; give me a break.
Fast forward a few years, and I finally get my hands on a copy of Rebel Angels, the sequel. I attempt to re-read A Great and Terrible Beauty as a warm-up. To my surprise, I find that I have no patience for this book. Gemma seems to be a weak, easily-led child, whose only goal is to placate her newfound friends in hopes that they stick around. I couldn’t stand her. I could only get halfway through before I chucked my copy into my closet, never to see the light of day. (Someone had spoiled the end of the series for me long, long ago, so I saw no need to stick things out to the end.)
Reading this now, I find that (once again), my opinion of Gemma has shifted. This is very much a character-driven novel, and your enjoyment of this will depend entirely on how you feel about Gemma and her club. While I still maintain that Gemma’s new friends—Felicity, Pippa, and Ann—only hang out with her because she has the ability to take them to the Realms, I no longer believe that Gemma is a weak person. Yes, the other girls are using her, and no, their relationship is not entirely genuine. But I think Gemma understands that, and in a small way, she uses the other girls, too. Is Gemma Doyle a likable, relatable character? No. However, she is a well-rounded, proactive character, and that counts for something.
In this re-read, I found that, rather than appreciating the steamy scenes, I liked that there were so few of them. A Great and Terrible Beauty was published in 2003, pre-Twilight, before young adult fiction got “big”, before it became impossible to find a paranormal novel that doesn’t contain a love triangle, instalove, or some disgusting perpetuation of rape culture (or possibly all three). Libba Bray’s focus is not on Gemma’s romance with Kartik at all. They rarely interact, and most scenes that contain Kartik are dreamscapes. Gemma is attracted to him, and we assume that he’s attracted to her, but romance is not the main point of this novel. In future novels, it may become more prominent, but at this point, Gemma is focused on her magic and what that means for her future.
I also found Bray’s treatment of magic and the paranormal to be refreshing. Currently, “paranormal” is synonymous with vampires/ghosts/banshees/angels/blabbity-blah. The concept of raw magic, without a name or a specific “species” wielding it, is so much more appealing to me. Couple that magic with a lush, well-detailed historical setting, and you have the premise for a very good book. And this author, with her strong, well-constructed prose, pulled it off quite well.
In conclusion and after almost four years’ worth of reflection, I’ve formed a solid opinion on this book. A Great and Terrible Beauty is worth reading. In the nearly ten years since it’s been published, the world of young adult paranormal fiction has seen a complete evolution, and as a reader who’s actually taken the time to immerse herself in the newer contributions the genre, I appreciate this book a lot (perhaps more than it deserves).
I have to wonder if, maybe, had Stephenie Meyer not arrived on stage two years after this novel’s publication, A Great and Terrible Beauty would not seem like such an anomaly in the genre.
Brought Me Back
I read this a few years ago, but I will forever remember it! I had left the YA scene for a while, thinking I was an adult (18, it's okay, go ahead and laugh!) and should have different taste in books.
Thankfully a friend recommended it and just happened to read it. I will admit, this one was the book that brought me back. I fell in love with YA all over again! And this time, I didn't care who knew or what they thought (still don't!).
Okay, enough of my fawning.
I liked that it was set in a different time, Libba did an amazing job making me feel present at that time. This is a reason I love this trilogy and can't wait to read her Diviners. There was moment to moment action, with all the social conflict of the time. Plus magic, duh. I had never thought about other realms before and this book really surprised me. Instead of just world building, it had dimension building. It set up a great trilogy. I honestly wished it was a longer series or that Libba would have some sort of spin off series!
I began reading A Great and Terrible Beauty expecting Victorian-style dialogue and mannerisms, intermixed with bits of fantasy and magic. What I got was the repeated mention of Victorian ideals (and fashion), using modern dialogue with next-to-no fantasy or magic. Frankly, I was a little disappointed.
After my first encounter with Gemma, I was tempted to put the book down and walk away. She came across as a spoiled and self-centred juvenile who I had no interest in reading about. Fortunately, after the death of her mother, she managed to pull her head out of her ass long enough to see that the world did not in fact revolve around her. In time, her moments of immaturity grew on me as I realized it was a pretty accurate depiction of your average sixteen-year-old, and she was strong when the moment required strength from her.
Having read in the summary that Gemma "blackmails" herself and Ann into the popular clique at her new boarding school, I was looking forward to cattiness and betrayals and a general feeling of constant distrust. What I got was a "friendship" (and I'm using that term very loosely) that seemed shallow and unrealistic. Gemma is constantly being used as a pawn by Felicity to make Pippa jealous, and seems to take no issue with it. In fact, she seems to relish in the moments where Felicity chooses her over Pippa, as she delights in seeing Pippa's hurt over her best friend's betrayal. For reasons I can't fathom, Gemma decides to trust these girls enough to tell them her deepest secret - she has visions and the ability to transport them all into a different realm where whatever they can imagine will come into fruition.
When we finally get to the realms, Gemma is told she is not allowed to use her powers outside of the realms. For the longest time no real reason is given, other then the patronizing "because I said so" routine of parents, and so of course when she is pushed by her "friends" (who then seemed to be using her for access to the realms and the power it gave them) to take the magic into the real world, Gemma does so without real fear of the consequences - because they were never properly explained to her.
I did enjoy the slow pacing of the revealing of secrets, as I felt it gave me a reason to continue reading. Without the mystery surrounding the realms, and Gemma's mother's involvement, I doubt I would have kept reading, especially considering that it took almost 300 pages before the realms were presented; the lack of magic and otherworldliness was quite off-putting as I was expecting quite a bit of fantasy. I read elsewhere that the "magic of the realms teeters on the edge of becoming a metaphor for drug use" and I couldn't agree more. There were several scenes where I was expecting the girls to get caught using some substance to explain their vivid delusions, as the images that were described seemed so disjointed.
Overall I feel quite underwhelmed by this book. It took about 100 pages or so before it managed to catch most of my attention, and even then I found myself putting the book down quite frequently as other things managed to steal my attention. I did enjoy reading it, but I really don't have much to say about it, which is why it's getting 2 stars for "meh" instead of 3 for "enjoyable yet non-memorable".