Monday, December 29, 2008

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2003
Series: Gemma Doyle Trilogy (Book 1)
Next in Series: Rebel Angels

Right before Gemma’s mother is murdered by a strange shadow in Victorian India, she tosses her daughter a crescent eye necklace. That was her first vision. Now, Gemma is then on her way to a homeland she has never seen to be turned into a lady at a finishing school. To save face, she must say that her mother died of cholera and pretend her father isn’t addicted to opiates. And then there’s the odd young Indian man, Kartik who followed her to England, with dire warnings to end the visions she cannot control. Soon, Gemma is wading her way through the delights of finishing school politics and attempting to take charge of her strange powers. Led by the diary of a girl she believes long dead and with the fickle help of her finishing school chums, Gemma enters a world fraught with trouble.

Gemma is a typical sixteen-year-old in that she has done things she regrets, wants to fit in (even against her better judgment), falls for someone she can never have, can’t always control her temper, and looks up to a teacher who encourages her to think outside the Victorian box. She’s an abnormal teen in that she has odd powers. She’s very well developed as a character and despite her many flaws, you come out loving her.

And it’s not just Gemma who is fully fleshed out. Somehow all the characters seem like real people. Everyone has their secrets, the things they strive to fix or make up for in their lives. Gemma’s friends, her teachers and family are a product of their environment, and either struggle against it or are overwhelmed by it.

The portrayal of Victorian England is very true to what I’ve studied of it, and the finishing school Spence leaps off the page. Its goal is to turn young girls into proper Victorian Ladies, but is defined by its’ past. The fire that killed the school’s founder (and possibly others) is something that Spence is still trying to recover from, to hide the smudge the fire left on Spence’s reputation.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is told from first person present perspective, which is very rare for any book, fiction or non.

My Thoughts:
This is a phenomenal book. I am always overjoyed to find strong female heroines (which is probably obvious in my reviews), but most of them have so few flaws. I adore that Gemma comes across as an actual woman, flaws and all. She makes some colossal mistakes, worries consistently about how to mend them. Her realization that she must learn to accept what she can’t change is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier. Finally, a fantasy novel where the lessons can be applied to real life!

Favorite Scene:
My favorite scene would have to be where Gemma is locked into the chapel. It’s spooky with a touch of romance, Gothic in the extreme. I get happy chills just thinking about it.

Who this book is best for:
Any girl from 14 on up will benefit by reading this. My sister (code name Poppy) said this: "I finished A Great and Terrible Beauty. Woah, that was real good. I'll have to borrow the other ones from you sometime."

Violence: 2 of 5 for murder and death scenes

Adult Content: 2 of 5 for some suggestive scenes

Stars: 5 of 5 (if I could give it more, I would.)

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