Series: Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1
Published by Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers on December 9, 2003
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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.
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 picked up A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray for two reasons: 1) I had never read any of Libba Bray’s books before and I had read such great things about them and 2) This cover is stunningly beautiful. I’m so glad I did!
Gemma Doyle is a sixteen-year-old girl growing up in India when she experiences a bit of family tragedy. As a result, she is sent to Spence Academy in London. Not only does Gemma not really fit in with the other girls there, but she is hiding a big secret from them: she has a bit of a problem that she does not understand. Gemma has visions that come true. She also has a power that allows her to enter the Realms, which is a place where the best of dreams and the worst of nightmares can come true. Gemma finds the old diary of a girl with similar visions and problems like hers. Together with her friends, Gemma learn more about the Realms and eventually begin exploring them. At first everything is great, until things get out of control…
I loved Gemma as a character. Although young, she is quite complex. I love how she is written differently than her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. In the first chapter or two of the book, I thought her a bit shallow. After her move to Spence Academy, however, she evolved as a girl and as a character into someone much more interesting and enjoyable. That girl has problems. Real problems. All four of the friends do, really…
…which brings me to another point about this book that I loved. Since this was written from a different period of history, I got a chance to be reminded of the difficulties that those girls faced just being girls back them. From the clothes, to the expectations, to the rules of society, and the differences in social class, Ms. Bray packs it all in there and as readers, we get to experience it. Loved that.
I think A Great and Terrible Beauty is a very strong start to this series. If you had asked me about it while I was still early in the book, I’m not sure what I would have said…but as the story progressed I really grew attached to Gemma and her circumstances. I think Ms. Bray did a fabulous job of starting a series but not ending this book with a cliffhanger. (I hate cliffhangers!) Everything wrapped up nicely in this story, but there are plenty of places Ms. Bray can take the storylines in the next installment and I can’t wait to read it.