a great and terrible beauty by libba bray (gemma doyle, book 1) (tw: self-harm)
overall rating: 4.25/5 ⭐️
genre: YA, fantasy, historical fiction, romance
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.
i’ve been seeing this book around for a long time, so i finally picked it up! i’ve read one other book by libba bray (the diviners), which i enjoyed, and i thought i’d give this a try. although i don’t usually read historical fiction, i actually quite enjoyed a great and terrible beauty, despite a few issues.
the characters are developed pretty well, especially the four girls in the clique. bray talks about their individual desires and dreams, and they all have their own distinct personalities. the girls aren’t particularly likable, but they’re understandable. their backstories are all interesting, and i hope we learn more about them in the next book.
i really like the relationships (interactions) between the characters. it’s interesting how the girls dislike each other initially, but traveling to the realms unites them. i love how they interact with each other throughout the book, through dialogue and actions. however, i’m not a huge fan of the romance, which is too superficial and lustful for my taste. i’m hoping that will change in the next book as well.
when i first picked up the book, i thought it would move slowly, but i was totally wrong. the plot is very fast-paced and exciting, which surprised me. i also really like the magical aspect of the story, but i wish there was more world development. there are a lot of things about the other realms that aren’t really explained, and i’d like to see more of the magic (in a clearer way). finally, i really enjoyed reading bray’s writing style. it’s descriptive without being overwhelming, and it adds a nice touch to the story.
overall, a great and terrible beauty is a beautifully written story with an exciting plot, and i’m looking forward to continuing the series!
have you read this? what did you think?