Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Series: Gemma Doyle #1
Published: December 9th 2003 by Simon and Schuster
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
It’s 1895, and Gemma Doyle lives in India, together with her parents. One day, Gemma is walking with her mother and a servant on the markets of Bombay, when Gemma and her mother get into a fight. Gemma runs away into the streets of Bombay, but while she is there, she gets a vision. She sees her mother commit suicide, and a little later she finds out that this actually happened. After this incident, Gemma is sent away to Spence, a boarding school in England that promises to turn her into a proper lady. But when Gemma gets there, she finds it hard to find her place. She has to deal with her dorky roommate Ann, popular girls Felicity and Pippa, her strange visions that keep coming back, and on top of that there is an Indian young man that is following around.
What I liked about this book
The main thing that I liked about this book is the setting. A boarding school for young ladies in Victorian England is so interesting! The scenes that were set during classes or that involved some of the drama that can happens between girls in school were the ones that I enjoyed the most. I think Libba Bray did a really good job of recreating the atmosphere at a boarding school in this era and it all felt very real to me.
I also really liked to see how Gemma, a girl that doesn’t really belong anywhere: not in India, not in England, and not in the magical realms, tries to find her way in all of this. She was raised in India, but she is English and therefore sees herself as better than the Indians. Such ideas are nowadays scene as very racist, but I think it was a very real thought in this era. But despite her English descend, she doesn’t feel English at all since she has never lived there. And she also doesn’t feel at home in the magical realms because she has trouble controlling all of it. And you can really see Gemma struggle with looking for a sense of belonging. I love how this can be seen when she befriends the popular girls Felicity and Pippa, who she never completely trusts but nevertheless shares a lot of secrets with.
And now on the the magical aspects of this book. I have to admit that these were not my favorite parts of the book. However, despite some of the problems I had with it which I will explain later, I think that this magical was thought through really well! The world was really complex, but that made it so much more interesting!
What I did not like about the book
One of the main things that bothers me is that all of the visions that Gemma has when she doesn’t control it yet happen at the most obvious moments. She only has the visions when it will lead to drama or have other consequences. I thought this was way too coincidental and I didn’t like this at all.
Another thing that bothered me is that the relationship between the magical world and the gypsies wasn’t really explained. I know that there are two more books in this series, but I would like to know a little bit more about the mysterious, Indian man who is following Gemma around. But I guess I’ll just have to be patient and wait until I read the other books to find this out.
And one final thing I think could have been better in the book, are the side characters. I think Gemma as a character was very interesting, but the other characters, mainly her friends Ann, Felicity and Pippa, were flat characters. They were the stereotypical group of friends, in which Ann was the shy girl that doesn’t really fit in, Felicity was the powerful, charismatic girl and Pippa is the gorgeous girl with a bad fate. They were introduced into the story like this, and it didn’t change throughout the book. I would have loved to see Gemma’s friends develop a little more over time.
Would I recommend this book?
If you like historical fiction and fantasy, you need to read this! I also think you would really enjoy this book if you like either historical fiction, or fantasy, because both elements play a really large role in this story. However, if these genres aren’t your cup of tea, I don’t think you should read this book because it wasn’t mindblowing or anything. It was just a fun read that lovers of historical fantasy would really enjoy.
“There are no safe choices. Only other choices.”
“Because you don’t notice the light without a bit of shadow. Everything has both dark and light. You have to play with it till you get it exactly right.”
“Miss Moore speaks slowly, deliberately. “I know because I read.” She pulls back and stands, hands on hips, offering us a challenge. “May I suggest that you all read? And often. Believe me, it’s nice to have something to talk about other than the weather and the Queen’s health. Your mind is not a cage. It’s a garden. And it requires cultivating.”