A Great And Terrible Beauty
by Libba Bray
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.
I will admit, this started off slower than I expected. Despite the supernatural elements that intrigued me, it took me a while to get into it properly. And then I found I could not quite put it down.
Gemma is an intriguing character. I am still wondering why and how she has inherited these abilities she has, and where it will lead her. There were many choices she made that showed just how naive and young and lost she was, and it was realistic to see her struggling with her secrets and her loss and her youth. Her relationships with her family were sad, in a way. Tom seems like a self-obsessed lout, but I have great hopes for him. I just get sad to think about her father.
Her mother is just – oh wow, I did not see that coming? I had a suspicion that there was more there than we knew, and then when I reached that bit? I devoured the book.
Felicity strikes me as one of those pretty little rich girls, who are at heart simply lonely. But because they put on a bitchy veneer, I am not sure whether I want to slap some sense into them, or sit them down and hug them for all their worth. She needs to grow up a little and realise that things do not always go her way, but her friendships, the genuine ones she builds, are her saving grace.
Ann is my favourite. I do not know why, but she is my favourite. Plain and simple and simply wanting more than she has. I adore her. A girl who has nothing, no family, no fortune, no looks – but she is seriously sweet.
And Pippa. Sweet, and yet not so sweet Pippa, romantic but lost Pippa. God, I feel so much for her. Because she’s pretty, she is coveted. No one cares what she wants. No one cares what any of the girls /want/. And it is so sad.
The supernatural mystery is intriguing, yes, but I am more gripped about hoping these girls find a way to get their desires. Find a way to claim their destinies.
(Also Kartik. Is awesome. But so mysterious. I need to know more.)
This book review is a little scattered, I realise, but I am a little overwhelmed with the happenings, and the end. I’ve got the next book on hand already, and I hope to see more of Miss Moore, and the girls’ friendship, and the Gypsies.