I was a little reluctant to read this book because of all the bad reviews I've seen on Goodreads. Okay, so i admit to being influenced by haters, but hey there were a lot of bad reviews! But A Great and Terrible Beauty was actually pretty engrossing. 4 out of 5 stars.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
4 out of 5 stars
Summary from Goodreads: 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.
Libba Bray has this rich writing style that is perfect for the time period. Elegant and classic, but still letting the reader feel comfortable and sane. I was caught up in her swirling prose, loving every letter of the book. It was definitely nice writing, at least in my opinion.
But I didn't just love the writing. I loved Gemma as a character. I was actually pretty impressed by her. While A Great and Terrible Beauty might take place in the 1800's, Gemma was anything but weak. You would expect her to be meek, unassuming and quiet. Instead, she was bold, smart and sassy. She'd even be a great character in modern times!
Even the plot was pretty good. At first, I didn't really uderstand why we would need the whole paranormal aspect. But then I realized it gave the story twists. Without the paranormal, A Great and Terrible Beauty is just your average boarding school book, complete with breakfast, eggs and all. Not very exciting. But now the author can add twists and turns to pass the plot off as good, thanks to paranormality. And that's exactly what Libba Bray did. And I loved every second of it!
However, sometimes this plot was a little too intense. It turned out to be confusing at some points. I didn't get a lot of whatever Libba was trying to hint at. Though I think it will probably make more sense in the next novel...
I think one reason why this book is so underrated is because of the title. Instead of A Great and Terrible Beauty, A Great and Terrible Power would make more sense. Other than that, I totally recommend this lush, mysterious novel!