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!
Clearly, Ms. Bray is a talented writer. I was immediately intrigued by the story (and the FREAKY stuff that happens almost from page one!), and I liked Gemma. The school setting is fabulous. Gemma is smart and has a backbone. I also liked the paranormal aspects (creepy!), but sometimes the descriptions in the paranormal realm felt confusing and I got a bit lost. Overall, though, this book is a good read, and I love the plot twists at the end!
Wishing for More
When i first pick this book but i was like wow! because the book was hugee!! I usually read books that are about 200-300pages but this has a total of 400pages!! This book was also my first by Libba Bray, so i wasnt use to her work! But was i gald i read it!! One of the BEST hictorical romance i have read ever! Also a great series! and sadly i was disappionted in the ending. I was still remember reading this :)
It was a joy! yet tragic! Be sure you got some tissue with you when reading this series! haha.
Reader reviewed by ash
in this inexplicable chain of events that lead to something much bigger than a dour bordings school, it's bullies, unpopularity, or the society of the late 1700's, gemma doyle and her best friends fight for their lives. truley a pandora's box...
Will Leave You Wanting More
Reader reviewed by Manda
I stumbled upon Libba Bray while perusing the YA section at my local Bookman's. As being one who normally chooses new books by their interesting covers, I was immediately drawn to A Great and Terrible Beauty. It being a New York Times Bestseller didn't hurt either. A Great and Terrible Beauty is Libba Bray's debut novel and I have to say she hit the ball out of the park. A Great and Terrible Beauty is the story of Gemma Doyle and her dealings at a private school in London after tragedy befalls her family. Gemma finds herself with powers beyond her control and a mysterious boy on her tail. The mixture of magic, romance, and teen angst that fills this book will have you dying for more. I love the voice of Gemma Doyle and the way Libba Bray makes you want to be apart of her world. You feel a need to be a part of her normal life at Spence Academy while also in the fictional world of magic and mayhem. When this book came to an end I was dying to move onto the sequel Rebel Angels. Libba Bray will take you on a wild ride in A Great and Terrible Beauty and you'll be ready for more.
A Great Beauty of a Novel
Reader reviewed by Lea
The first novel in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, we meet Gemma. When her mother dies, she is sent off to Spence Academy, where things get interesting. She joins up with the most popular girls, but leaves the reader wondering if they are her friends. Gemma's visions haunt her, and then she finds a diary of a girl with abilities like her. Soon, Gemma and her friends Felicity, Pippa and Ann all explore the Realms, and the dangers within them...