A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1)
December 2003, Random House Children’s Books
Young Adult fantasy
It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?
I adored Libba Bray’s most recent novel, Beauty Queens, so it’s a wonder I haven’t read the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, for which Bray is better known, before now. I’m sorry I’ve waited so long. This book is, simply put, utterly flawless.
A Great and Terrible Beauty starts off with a scene the majority of the readership will be able to relate to: a mother-daughter dispute. From there the story takes off and refuses to slow. Bray sets the scene vividly and shows sharp contrast between the three main settings, India, England, and the spiritual realms. Most of the characters started off as simple, but as I got to know them better through Gemma’s eyes, new layers of complexity were added and I found myself deeply invested.
Bray is known for confronting issues prevalent in her adolescent audience head-on in her writings, and this book is no exception. Things as light as high-school politics to as heavy as self-mutilation are seamlessly touched on, but I especially noticed Bray’s inclusion of girls’ budding sexualities in a society where showing one’s ankles is considered scandalous. Readers will undoubtably see portions of themselves reflected in the characters and perhaps even find comfort.
A Great and Terrible Beauty is dark, adventurous, romantic, fantastical–there’s something for everyone here. It’s consistently well-written and believable; it’s not particularly difficult to read–the thoroughly engaging plot forbids that–yet is anything but mind candy. I can’t wait to get on with this series, and, as an added bonus, there seems to be a movie planned for 2015 release. This book is a must-read.
Rating: 5 stars