A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Series: Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1
YA ∴ Fantasy > Paranormal, Magic, Witchy ∴ Romance ∴ Historical Fiction ∴ Mystery
Published December 9th 2003 by Simon and Schuster
Paperback ∴ 403 pages
In this debut gothic novel mysterious visions, dark family secrets and a long-lost diary thrust Gemma and her classmates back into the horrors that followed her from India. (Ages 12+)
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’m pretty sure the first time I read this book, I was 13 or 14. It was the first book that kept me up far too late and kept me wanting more long after it was over. I fell in love with this world, and now, 13 years later (holy shit I’m old), I still can’t get enough. I’m currently reading this series with my friend Lauren over at Northern Plunder and I think she likes it just as much as I do.
I’m not sure what pulled me into this book when I read it as a teen. I love the realistic relationship between Gemma and her mother throughout the novel. Even though it’s set in the 1890s, Gemma is still a 16 year old and bratty, as most teens are at that age. She was raised differently than her London-born peers, so she’s less proper, less polite, more relatable. Though there is the “not like other girls” trope, I never really gave it much thought, probably because it doesn’t matter after a while; it’s not important to the story.
I also really enjoy her attraction to Kartik, an Indian boy that’s apart of a different secret society and has been charged to low-key stalk her. Gemma is well aware that she’s not supposed to find Indian men attractive, but she just can’t handle his crazy-long eyelashes.
There is also a lot of feminist ideals in this novel. The girls don’t want to do what is expected of them, Miss Moore encourages independent thought rather than following the herd. There are different instances where a girl will mention that “it’s not as if we can do what we want, is it?” (163). Though most of the school girls follow what’s expected, they are aware that it’s unfair and wrong.
I think this is the easiest read in the trilogy. I remember the others being longer and more drawn on, though Rebel Angels is my favorite. I love finding all of the minor foreshadowing in the first book. SO MANY THINGS ARE FORESHADOWED. Just small mentions, nothing is elaborated on, and I can’t wait to get to those parts in the next two books.