Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Author: Libba Bray
Genre: YA historical fiction, supernatural
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication date: December 9th 2003

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.

My Take:

This is the first time ever I actually enjoy an historical novel. I usually find books that aren't set in our days or in the future dull and unrelatable. I was utterly clueless about the Victorian era before I started reading and that's why I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing...
I am very happy to tell you that this book was the opposite of everything I expected from an historical novel!!! It was truly the most exciting book I've read in 2013. It gripped me so hard that I could barely put it down.

It's been more than a week since I've finished this novel and I can't stop thinking about it.Where shall I start with it?! It was beautiful. Creepy. Hypnotizing. Devastating. Gripping. Deep. Emotional. Scary. Powerful. Edgy. Dark. Mysterious. Lyrical. Exciting. Heartbreaking. Thought-provoking. Suspenseful... There aren't enough words in the dictionary to describe the overall greatness of this book!!!
It's going to be extremely difficult to describe the plot for all its complexity in just a few sentences but I'm going to try my best...
This book tells the story of Jemma, a 16-year-old Indian-British girl living in the 19th century. Unlike most teenage girls those days, Jemma is stubborn and doesn't agree silently to everything she's being told to do. Her quiet life in India completely changes when her mother is being mysteriously murdered on the her 16th birthday. Jemma is being seized with terrible, uncontrollable visions she is just terrified with. Grief-stricken, the family moves to London. She is sent to an all-girls school, where she's being taught how to get the best marriage and how to become the best wife. While trying to blend in, Jemma befriends a group of girls, each one special in her own way. Together they discover a world of magic, which can be fantastic and fascinating, but also dark and dangerous.
Gemma was an incredible main character. I can't believe how strongly I related to her. I knew I was going to like her from the very first page, when I first encountered her witty sarcasm that made her sounds like a real teen girl. She had a very compelling and sincere teenage voice. I was surprised that even though she lived in a different society with a different mentality than nowadays, she thought just like a modern a girl - she never felt herself lesser than a man and always acted like herself, even if it was considered impolite or inappropriate. I love hew she was true to herself and how she believed she was going to have a brighter future than what adults planned for her.

What I liked even more about her was the affection and true understanding she felt towards her friends - Pippa, Ann and Felicity. These three girls were my favorite part of the book. Each one of them was special and different. They didn't exactly belong into this factory of future-wives. They all had strong desires and wishes that they weren't allowed to express in a place where wanting anything just for pleasure was considered unfeminine and unattractive.  Together, as a group, they built each other's self evaluation. They found out that they're not alone in their feelings, that they're not the only girls in the world who want more than they have and that it's totally okay. I loved how they completed and evened each other - for example, the unpredictable, wild Felicity was opposite to the neat, quiet ann. Together they became strong, invincible, inseparable.  This book showed the power of friendship and how it can be the best and worst thing in the world.

This book was amazing, as I said before, but not perfect. Everything was flawed in one way or another - the characters were sometimes too extreme to be believable and the plot was sometimes kind of... cheesy. But the special thing about this book was that its imperfections only made it BETTER. And that's the magic.
I'm going to rate it four stars, not five, but it doesn't mean I didn't love it. I don't really know how to explain this rating... I just can't bring myself to rate it five because I wanted slightly more from it.

Overall, this book had a great impression on me and I don't think I'll be able to forget it anytime soon. I highly recommend you all to read it!! Seriously, this book shouldn't be missed by anyone...



  1. I'm like you, I don't really like historical fiction but if you liked it, I might as well give it a go. Brilliant review, nice depth to it. I can tell you really loved it.

    1. You really should read this!! I loved it even though I'm not an historical fiction fan.

      And thanks, that's a huge compliment :]]

  2. I like to call myself a lover of historical fiction, though in reality, the only kind of historical fiction I like to read are the ones about WWII. But if you were able to enjoy this despite not being a historical fan, then I have very little doubt that I will, too.

    And wow - more than a week later and you're still reeling?! That's particularly promising because I suffer from severe book amnesia, and it usually takes me only a couple of days before I start to forget a book! (Though it depends on how much I liked it, too.)

    "she thought just like a modern a girl - she never felt herself lesser than a man and always acted like herself, even if it was considered impolite or inappropriate. I love hew she was true to herself and how she believed she was going to have a brighter future than what adults planned for her." - I feel like this really conveys what a great character Gemma is, and it's great that you were able to connect with her so strongly. Connecting with characters isn't usually a problem for me, so I have high hopes for this!

    And yay for true friendship! A lot of the times in YA, I see the MC with only one or two friends, who end up getting ditched while she goes on a mission to save the world. I'm glad that these three played a bigger role in the book, and weren't only there just because they were supposed to be.

    "But the special thing about this book was that its imperfections only made it BETTER." - You really know how to sell a book, Sapir! I have to admit that I wasn't planning on reading this one, because like I said, historical fiction and me have a kind of flimsy relationship, but I'm getting excited. Great review!

    1. OMG. That's a long and detailed comment. THANKS <3<3
      You really should read this book!! I'm sure you'll like it weather you're a fan of historical fiction or not. Actually, the historical part only made this book more intriguing because the life of girls back then was so different from nowadays, but despite that Gemma actually thinks and acts like any one of us..


  3. I think this was my first historical fiction book and what really got me started on the genre. I'm so glad you liked this one, and I hope you continue the series because I would love to know your thoughts on the final book! I agree that all of the characters were so unique.

    1. I think this book will do the same for me. I'm intrigued to read more historical books :)
      When I'll read the last one, I will sure post a review.
      Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting <3

  4. Historical fiction, like a lot of other genres, are always a hit or miss for me. I haven't sound many that I didn't enjoy but I am really picky about which ones I pick up. This one sounds really good! Strong/unique characters and magic!

    Great reivew

    1. I am a very picky reader too in this genre (and in general..). I think you'll enjoy even if historical fiction is not your cup of tea.

      THANKS! <3

  5. This is one of my favorites! I love this series!

    1. I think it's mine too!! I have to continue the series

  6. Is it weird that I've heard of this author before but not the book? Hearing how much you liked it when you don't typically enjoy historical fiction really grabs my attention! I may have to check this one out! Thanks for the review!

    1. I think this was the author's debut. Thank you so much <3

  7. One of my favorite genres is historical fiction, except that I can't really find many books in that genre that I'm interested in. But this one sounds amazing.

    It's a great review, Sapir!

    1. If historical fiction is your favorite genre, then you HAVE to read this book. :)