Reader reviewed by Alex (Tales of a Teenage Book Lover)
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".
A Must Read for all teen girls
Reader reviewed by Kris
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray captures all who read it. Beauty is about a young teen, Gemma, who is relentless and curious. This novel started in India, where Gemma was in the market place with her mother, once again arguing over whether or not she should be allowed to go to London for schooling. Her last words to her mother were "I don't care if you come home at all." I, for one, can completely relate to this feeling of resent. Little did Gemma know, though, that her words would be true and her mother would not return home later that day. Since her mother's death, Gemma received her wish and was sent to Spence Academy to become a lady. There the headmistress does little to make her feel welcome, and her only comfort is her roommate, Ann, who is knowledgeable and always absorbed in reading. After proving her worth, she becomes acquaintances with Felicity and Pippa, and eventually they even become friendly. With them, she discovers a great and terrible power that Kartik, the mysterious man she met in the marketplace, tries to warn her to control.
Bray weaves a story of danger, suspense, magic, mystery, and desire. She sets it over 100 years in the past, in India and London. She creates the heroine, Gemma, and truly releases her eccentric and stubborn spirit. Then she adds three friends, one with brains, one with beauty, and one with leadership into this already capturing mix. On top of this all, she puts in a dash of magic and romance for the final blend. All these ingredients together create a most wonderful story to read, impossible to put down once started. Though some parts may be slightly confusing, such as distinguishing Pippa from Felicity, they do not take away from the story at all. I would give A Great and Terrible Beauty 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot wait until the next book in the trilogy.
Reprinted here with author's permission.
One of the Best Books Ever!
Reader reviewed by Ria
A Great and Terrible Beauty is about a girl named Gemma. She's living in India when her 16th b-day rolls around. She begs her mother to take her to London, but her mother refuses. Then, an accident takes her mother's life and Gemma is sent to Spence boarding school. Gemma notices an Indian man following her around.
The first girl Gemma meets is Ann, her roommate, a scholarship student who the other girls don't like. Gemma is soon acquainted with the popular girls, Pippa and Felicity, who torment her until Gemma puts a stop to it.
One night, Gemma is outside when a girl appears and takes her to a place where the diary of Mary Dowd is hidden, but she doesn't start reading it immediately.
Soon, Pippa and Felicity start asking Gemma to spend time with them. And slowly, Gemma starts reading Mary Dowd's diary. One day, while going on a trip to some caves, the girls come across some drawings. The topic of the Order, a group of powerful women, comes up. Felicity and Gemma entertain the thoughts of starting their own order, which they do, inviting only Pippa and Ann.
The ritual was to read part of Mary's diary each meeting. With more and more information about the Order, Gemma realizes that she has a certain power which she doesn't know much about, and her powers are developing. After a while, Gemma figures out how to travel to the other world, where she meets her mother. Slowly, her mother teaches Gemma about her gift, and tells her that Circe is out to get her.
Gemma brings her 3 friends to the world, and soon they are obsessed with their secret. They visit daily, until Gemma finds out disconcerting information on who Circe is. It then becomes a battle between Circe and Gemma for the ultimate power.
This was one of the best books I have ever read. The story was so powerful. The suspense kept me reading until I finished. The characters were so developed that the reader felt like they really knew them, especially Gemma. The light romance kept the story from becoming too sappy. I didn't really like the ending as much. The entire book was sooo good until it came to the ending. The book was really well written. I'm sad that it's over! I definately give this book a 5 out of 5.
Reader reviewed by noxzeema
Gemma Doyle is still reeling from her mother's death when she is shipped off to an all girl boarding school. There she meets Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. Soon after Gemma arrives, supernatural things start occuring, and the four girls dig deeper and deeper into the past of Spence Academy for girls, the past no one wants remembered.
Reader reviewed by chatterbox891
This book was so great that I have to type in caps. THIS BOOK WAS AWESOME!!!!!
After her mother's death (suicide), Gemma Doyle is whisked away from her home in India to a finishing school in England, 1895. There she finds friends (after a bit of trouble) and finds that she has magic powers and belongs to a group of powerful women called, the Order. Gemma and her friends dabble in the magics until they must fight the evil Circe. Read and find out what happens in the SUPERB story!
Possibly the best book i've ever read!
Reader reviewed by Chloe
This book was incredible. The plot was suspensful and scary, yet touching. The characters become nto only, gemma's friends, but your own as well, and The writing is...you want to quote it! I was sucked in when my friend recommended it to me, i couldn't put it down, adn at the end i didnt sleep, truly deeply a great read! I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good book, or even anyone who doesn't!
One of the most captivating books I've ever read!
Reader reviewed by Andrea
A Great and Terrible Beauty is what it's name implys, beautiful. The story is about sixteen-year-old Gemma, who grew up in India. All her life she wanted so badly to go to London. On her sixteenth birthday, she gets into a fight with her mother and her mother ends up being murdured. The scary part is, Gemma saw her mother being murdered in a vision while it was happening. She is then sent to a finishing school in London. There, Gemma faces more visions, strange happenings, and makes enemies and life-long friends with three girls. A handsom, mysterious man named Kartik follows Gemma from India and warns her against the visions. Gemma develops a sort of odd, hateful love for Kartk but ignores his warnings and continues her visions. She and the other three girls - Felicity, the popular and bold one. Pippa, the pretty, fanciful, and rather ditsy one. And Ann, the quite, yet clever outcast - make a secret club after Gemma finds the diary of a mysterious Mary Dowd in a vison. They soon learn the weird magic, unbelieveable and horrible events, and the powerful Order in the book about Mary and her best friend Sarah are real and find themselves in a beautiful land where Felicity is strong, Peppa has true love, Ann is beautiful, and Gemma can talk to her dead mother. At first, they love this new place and nw abilities they take back with them, but Gemma learns dark secrets about the school and the Mary and Sarah they have been reading about. In the end, Gemma had to face tremendous obstacles in a fight against good and evil, and the tough real world against 'paradise.' It ends in tragedy as one of Gemma's friends dies. She now had to learn to fix her mistakes, get Kartik to forgive her, and bring back together the Order.
I think this may be one of the best books I've ever read, infact I put it into my top 5. (incase you care, it's Winter of Fire, White Fang, Elvenbane, The Iron Ring, and now 'Beauty.) I actually stood up all night reading it, I couldn't put it down! It is so interesting, the minute you think you have the end pegged, the auther totally spins ya through a loop! I also liked how not even the central character is perfect, they each have qualities you like and don't like. It is such a breath of fresh air from the typical fantasy. And the it's not afraid to take that "extra step". On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd give it a 7! Bravo!
Reader reviewed by Ash
A Great and Terrible Beauty wasn't one of those books that just went 'Gemma made friends and they found a scarey new realm, but they defeated it together and helped Gemma's mom, and lived happily ever after.' It went into depth. I felt the suspense, the magic in the book. I really liked how the author didn't make all the girls and Gemma's mother get along perfectly for most of the book. They had fights and disagreements throughout the whole book, just like real friends do. I thought it was good of the Celia Rees to let one of the characters die. It showed how dangerous and serious the realm was even without Circees .Overall this was a book worth reading and at points easy to relate to.