Books Young Adult Fiction A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1) Hot

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4.5 (102)
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Author(s)
Age Range
12+
Release Date
December 09, 2003
ISBN
0385730284
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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.

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Overall rating 
 
4.5
Plot 
 
4.5  (102)
Characters 
 
N/A  (0)
Writing Style 
 
N/A  (0)
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 (:
Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
Jillian Reviewed by Jillian November 13, 2013
Top 500 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (3)

Surprisingly Good

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 (:

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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.
Overall rating 
 
3.7
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
1.0
Sasha Shamblen Reviewed by Sasha Shamblen April 03, 2013
Top 100 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (43)

High Hopes?

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.

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(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.
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
Renae M Reviewed by Renae M March 25, 2013
Last updated: March 25, 2013
Top 50 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (184)

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.

Was this review helpful to you? 
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!
Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
alysha Reviewed by alysha March 15, 2013
Top 1000 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (2)

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!

Was this review helpful to you? 
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".
Overall rating 
 
2.3
Plot 
 
2.0
Characters 
 
2.0
Writing Style 
 
3.0
Kelly Goodwin Reviewed by Kelly Goodwin May 24, 2012
Top 50 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (151)

Underwhelming

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".

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I really wanted to get into this book, but just couldn't very slow.
Amanda Reviewed by Amanda March 19, 2012
Top 500 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (7)

Meh

I really wanted to get into this book, but just couldn't very slow.

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Gemma Doyle is a rebellious young lady who lives with her mother in India in the 1800s. She hates her life there and wishes to go to England, where she can live a more uptown life with her brother and father.
The story starts with Gemma and her mother going through a market on Gemma's birthday. They are heading to a friend's house for tea, when they are stopped by a man. He takes Gemma's mother aside, and speaks with her.
After the man speaks with Gemma's mom, the mom gets sort of weird, and she says that she has to go to tea alone, then leaves. Gemma doesn't know what is up, so she starts to walk around the store. Suddenly she feels very faint. Just before she goes down, Gemma sees a young man about her age, then she is out. She dreams about something terrible, her mother's murder.
When she wakes up, she is shocked to find that her dream was true. It was a vision, the first of many. If you like mystery, romance, and magical/mystical tales, you will love this book.
Overall rating 
 
4.7
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
Kit Joans Reviewed by Kit Joans February 12, 2012
Top 500 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (4)

Great!

Gemma Doyle is a rebellious young lady who lives with her mother in India in the 1800s. She hates her life there and wishes to go to England, where she can live a more uptown life with her brother and father.
The story starts with Gemma and her mother going through a market on Gemma's birthday. They are heading to a friend's house for tea, when they are stopped by a man. He takes Gemma's mother aside, and speaks with her.
After the man speaks with Gemma's mom, the mom gets sort of weird, and she says that she has to go to tea alone, then leaves. Gemma doesn't know what is up, so she starts to walk around the store. Suddenly she feels very faint. Just before she goes down, Gemma sees a young man about her age, then she is out. She dreams about something terrible, her mother's murder.
When she wakes up, she is shocked to find that her dream was true. It was a vision, the first of many. If you like mystery, romance, and magical/mystical tales, you will love this book.

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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!
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
CJ Redwine, Editor Reviewed by CJ Redwine, Editor November 24, 2011
Top 10 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (378)

Intriguing

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!

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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.
xx candyyx3(Tuyen)
Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
Reviewed by Tuyen August 25, 2011
View all my reviews (1)

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.
xx candyyx3(Tuyen)

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I liked the story, but the characters were a bit underdeveloped and the story was extremely slow, except for at the end where it felt like the author rushed the story.
Overall rating 
 
3.0
Plot 
 
3.0
Characters 
 
3.0
Writing Style 
 
3.0

Ok book

I liked the story, but the characters were a bit underdeveloped and the story was extremely slow, except for at the end where it felt like the author rushed the story.

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