End-of-the-nineteenth-century London meets beloved coming-of-age story meets paranormal occurrences in this smashing debut by the promising author Libba Bray. For anyone who loves historical fiction, fantasy, the paranormal, romance, coming-of-age stories...okay, that covers just about everyone...this book is a great read.
After her mother is murdered in the streets of India, where they had lived, Gemma Doyle is sent to a girls' boarding school near London. Spence is a ghastly place with cold staff and even crueler classmates, particularly the clique of power-hungry Felicity and beautiful Pippa and their group of followers. Gemma is determined not to get sucked into their manipulative lives and instead tries to focus on understanding the strange visions she has been getting recently. It doesn't help that Kartik, a young Indian man who was present with her at her mother's death, has followed her to England and is now watching her, warning her to close her mind to the visions. Which only makes the headstrong Gemma even more determined to figure out her visions, which she believes will be the clue to understanding her mother's murder.
Surprisingly though, she, Felicity, Pippa, and a doughy scholarship girl Ann form a clique of their own. Theirs consists of sneaking out away to the caves in the surrounding woods, drinking, reading out of some girl called Mary Dowd's diary, and talking wistfully about what they could do if they were not all restrained to a life of pleasing men and running households...except for Ann, whose poor status will force her to be a governess to snotty children somewhere. It's a dismal future, but such is the life for English girls.
Then, suddenly, Gemma and her friends realize that her visions about a place called the Realms is real, it's all real. They visit the Realms, a wondrous dream world where everything they want can happen. They spend almost every night there and can even bring magic back into the real world for a short period of time.
It seems almost too good to be true...and it is. There are those who want the magic of the Realms all to themselves, and they will do anything to deceive Gemma and her friends. A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY begins a fantastic trilogy about Gemma and her decisions regarding her friends, love life, and the magic of the Realms.