Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A young adult, soon to be, trilogy that I have wanted to read for a while, this enters the marks as one of the better books I have read this year. Young adult books are much better than they were when I was a young adult, I know that much.

From the back of the book:

Gemma Doyle isn't like other girls. Girls with impeccable manners, who speak when spoken to, who remember their station, and who will lie back and think of England when it's required of them.

No, sixteen-year-old Gemma is an island unto herself, sent to the Spence Academy in London after tragedy strikes her family in India. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma finds a chilly reception. But she's not completely alone... she's followed by a mysterious young man, who warns her to close her mind against her visions.

For it's at Spence that Gemma's power to attract the supernatural unfolds; there she becomes entangled with the school's most powerful girls and discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy group called the Order. It's there that her destiny waits... if only she can believe in it.

A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is a curl-up-under-the-covers kind of book... a vast canvs of rustling skirts and dancing shadows and things that go bump in the night. It's a vividly drawn portrait of the Victorian age, when girls were groomed for lives as rich men's wives... and the story of a girl who saw another way.

I regret that it took me so long to discover this book. I had heard of it, but it never grabbed my attention enough to buy it until recently. Now, I can't wait to read the next one and I hope it will be equally good. Young adult novels have come a long way, some of them are even better than novels marketed at adults.

This novel was attractive to me because people were saying it had fantasy elements to it. I enjoy fantasy novels, so I decided to see what these fantasy elements were. This book takes place in the later part of the 19th-century. The main character, Gemma Doyle, is dealing with being a sixteen-year-old. Teenage years are never easy, and with the last few months has brought a very difficult daughter for Gemma's mother. They used to get along, but now Gemma has it stuck in her head that she absolutely has to go to London. Her mother doesn't agree, and this causes lots of conflict between mother and daughter.

Then one day, everything changes for good. While in the marketplace, Gemma says a horrible thing to her mother and the next thing she knows, her mother is not around anymore to argue with. Gemma blames herself, and is racked with guilt for quite some time. She is her most annoying at this part of the book, while she deals with the loss of her mother. But then, she discovers she has an amazing gift that results in a whole other world for her. A young man, who you will find an interesting member of the cast of characters, follows Gemma to London where Gemma is attending Spence Academy.

When Gemma first arrives in London, she wonders why she ever really wanted to go there in the first place, but then she starts to make friends and lets her powers work, and a whole new world is open to her, a world of adventure and danger. She is in a school where girls are supposed to be learning how to be good wives, they are more interested in pleasing their men folk than doing anything for themselves. Gemma soon learns this is not the way that she wants to spend her life.

I hope I am not making this novel sound silly, it is anything but. I was glued to my seat while I was reading this, waiting to see what adventures would happen to the quartet next. As Gemma is not alone when she has her adventures, most times she has her three female friends with her. They are an interesting group, but they each have something to bring to the novel as a whole.

I can't wait to read the sequel!


Marg says:

When Gemma's mother dies after there were harsh words spoken between them, Gemma finds herself at Spence, an English boarding school whose main aim is to produce young ladies who will be prized catches during the season, and find worth husbands. Feeling incredibly lonely and ostracized, Gemma struggles to make friends and to make sense of the strange visions that she has had. As events spiral out of control, can Gemma and her friends make the correct decisions to maintain both their friendship, and their lives.

I wish I could remember where I first saw this book, so that I could thank the person who bought it to my attention. What a little gem of a book! With a tone that is moody and atmospheric, almost gothic and so fitting! The last book that I remember reading that conveyed this kind of sense of impending events was the Australian classic "Picnic at Hanging Rock".

With interesting locales (both in India and then at Spence school), the world that Gemma (and the reader) is introduced to following the tragic death of her mother is one where anything can happen, both good and bad, and is an interesting look at the consequences of getting what you think you want.

And yet, as gloomy as that may sound, there were sections of fun, delight fantasy and growing friendship between the girls. In some ways this book could be a gothic/fantasy/historical version of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants books. Both explore friendship and a growing sense of self, and are marketed as Young Adult books, although I was a little surprised at a couple of the scenes that were in this one, as I felt that it might be pushing the YA label a bit far!

The sequel to this book is already out - called "Rebel Angels", I will definitely be looking out for it to continue the adventures of Gemma and her friends.

Rating 4.5/5

1 comment:

  1. I, too, really enjoyed this book. I am wondering if any of you ladies could advise me regarding Neo-Victorian novels. I would greatly appreciate any advice.