by Libba Bray
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Amazon, Barnes & Noble
(available as Kindle/Nook and Audio editions)
Audiobook borrowed from the library
Synopsis from Goodreads
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.
When I first picked up this series, I did so because I love Libba Bray’s writing (see my review of Going Bovine) and I’m a fan of the historical era these books are set in (late 19th/early 20th century).
I am SO SO SO happy I did. A Great and Terrible Beauty is one of those books that will hook you and stay with you long after you’ve put it down.
Gemma Doyle starts off as the kind of teenager most adults tolerate with hopes of them growing up…and quickly. She was (IMHO) a little rude and a little whiny. But the loss of her mother in the first few pages of the book shocks her out of her complacent, self-centered world and fast. It also sends her back to England, to her mother’s old finishing school where a strange fire occurred years ago and where mystery awaits Gemma.
What I really loved about this book was the descriptions. Libba Bray is a master at bringing the reader fully into the story and making everything about it, from the scenery to the characters to the drama that drives the story along so incredibly immediate. And I fell in love with all the girls in this book, from snarky, bullying but fiercely loyal and brave Felicity, to downtrodden but still somehow hopeful Ann to the beautiful but emotionally fragile Pippa. And I loved how the big bad in this story snuck up on me!
I give it 5 out of 5 books
So stay tuned, dear reader! I’ll be back with my thoughts on the rest of the books in this series over the next week.
Now go and get lost…in a book!