Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Book: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)
By: Libba Bray
Published: December 9, 2003
Published By: Simon and Schuster

Description: 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.

My Thoughts: I'm not normally one to like to read historical gothic type fiction (Is that how to describe this book? I'm horrible at figuring out genres) but since I like these kind of movies, I figured I may has well give it a shot. A Great and Terrible Beauty helped bring me a bit closer to these kind of books since it had many of the elements I tend to like in books like magic and faeries and all that. Plus, it touches on a few issues we still have yet to overcome in today's society, like the role of women and the power they should or should not posses.

We start the book with Gemma and her Mother in the marketplace in India. Gemma, a 16 year old birthday girl who wants to be thought of as an adult is quite inappropriately attempting to plea her case of why she should be sent to England to school. Of course, her whiny attitude and excessive rude statements aren't helping her mother feel any better about the idea. Soon, after realizing she isn't getting anywhere and realizing that her mother has a pressing matter to attend for the evening before her party, Gemma  storms off, rudely exclaiming that she doesn't care if her mother never ever comes home. Of course, you better watch out what you wish for. Gemma ends up lost in India, and sees a man she recognizes, sexy Kartik before she is clumsily swept up in a vision where she sees her mother's death. Desperate to ensure her mother is okay, she rushes off to find her and finds out that her mother is in fact dead. Gemma then gets what she wants, she is sent to school in England.

Spence Academy is the school where women go to learn how to become ladies and find husbands. Of course, during this time, a woman is nothing if she's not married, and quiet, and a nobody who stands behind her man like a good wife should. She should be seen and not heard. (ugh! I hate this, but it was the way it was). Gemma has all the normal woman classes, french, music, art, etc and is doing her best to fit in, but since she is the new girl who came to the school extremely late, she gets stuck rooming with an orphan scholarship student on the lower ends of the Status rank and on the outside of the Power clique. Gemma, being the kind of person she is, doesn't let any of this affect her. She's brusque and isn't afraid to speak her mind (I love it!!). After finding out some dirt on the head of the power clique, Felicity, she bribes her and her roommate Ann's admittance into the inner circle.

Meanwhile, Gemma is having more visions, and Kartik, who's turning into sexy creepy stalker guy (who Gemma of course starts to fall for), tells her to stop having them. (As if? Seriously, who doesn't know that visions can't be stopped. They force themselves upon you, not the other way around.) Of course, this only makes rebellious Gemma try to have them more. One thing leads to another, and Gemma realizes she holds important magical powers that allow her to travel into the Realms (A special place where dreams come from and anything you want can be made real.). Even more, she can bring the magic back with her. She learns though, that she shouldn't bring it back because she must be sure she can control it. She later brings her whole inner circle with her.

They love the Realms and want to come back night after night. This, of course, is where everything goes downhill. I won't tell you exactly what happens. Just know that friendships are tested, lies are uncovered, dark forces rise, and not everyone may come out alive. It's definitely a gothic mystery where you want to figure out what's going on, as if your own name were Gemma Doyle and your own life were on the line.

I am definitely happy I picked up this book and started reading. It was quite interesting and kept me on the edge of my seat. Despite my happy feelings, there were a few things I didn't like about the book. First, Gemma was panicy. She tended to panic under pressure. As a woman who seems to flourish under pressure, I just couldn't connect. Also, Gemma was a bit gullible at times. I feel like she honestly asked to be teased or to get in trouble because she made stupid decisions, although she did have a knack for getting out of those situations (which is of course a good quality if you're a person who constantly gets into trouble). Finally, there were often times when Gemma didn't seem to use her brain. You know how when you're watching a scary movie, and the killer is obvious because things just aren't quite right with them? You find yourself just sitting back waiting until everyone else figures out what you've known for a while now? Or perhaps when you're watching a movie and you know at the end that that friend is going to be the one thing to ruin everything but the main character is just too trusting to even notice the signs? That's exactly how I felt as I neared the end of the book. It made me annoyed and I wanted to shake Gemma and scream at her to stop being so stupid and pay attention. Of course, she didn't, and all hell broke loose. Shame. Then again, if I was a heroine, the book would probably be THE MOST paranoid stricken book on the planet, with no climax because I would somehow avoid it, and I would have no friends.

I liked this book despite my hangups. I'm not sure if I'll read the next books in the series, but it was exciting nonetheless. In terms of a rating, I give it 3.5 stars.


Lan said...

Did they make this into a movie or am I just dreaming? I'm not normally one for gothic stuff either but this one sounds like it's going to be really cool. I like when books have a small amount of paranormal element in them. Just enough to make it seem a bit unusual. I'm not sure how 'll go with Gemma's character as I'm not patient with stupid heroines but I'll never know until I try!

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