A Great and Terrible Beauty – Libba Bray
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?
That summary’s not identical to the jacket copy on my hardcover, but whatever. I don’t want to spoil too much of this book for you!
Libba Bray is one of my favourite authors. She’s funny and cool and I genuinely like her style (writing and otherwise). And while I knew I loved her Gemma Doyle trilogy, I actually couldn’t remember very many details, which is why I’ve been (slowly but surely) re-reading them at night.
Of course, re-reading it, some parts starting coming back to me: mostly the characters and their personalities (sidenote: I stole the name Pippa from these books when I started writing my first novel). This can be awkward because sometimes I forget how much Gemma does/doesn’t know (i.e. as of the beginning of book two, Rebel Angels, she has not figured out who Sarah Rees Brennan/Circe is. But I know, and it’s SHOCKING).
I think the characters are the best part of this series. Some people may find them annoying or silly or whatever, but they’ve always intrigued me. The four girls – Gemma, Felicity, Pippa, and Ann – are a lot a like, and yet totally different at the same time.
“Shall I tell you a story? A new and terrible one? A ghost story? Are you ready? Shall I begin? Once upon a time there were four girls. One was pretty. One was clever. One charming, and one…one was mysterious. But they were all damaged, you see. Something not right about the lot of them. Bad blood. Big dreams […] They were all dreamers, these girls.
I also remember Kartik as being totally swoon-worthy, and while he hasn’t really done anything swoony yet, I remain hopeful. I can’t have made that up, right? Otherwise I wouldn’t have been so devastated by the thing I know happens at the end of the third book, The Sweet Far Thing.
One thing I noticed, though: it starts off with a bang, but then there’s quite a lag (i.e. lots of exposition) before stuff really starts to happen. And if I was reading it for the first time, I might be bored, or at least have a hard time getting through it. But since I know for a fact that I love this series and I know that it picks up, the slow pace doesn’t bother me as much as it might have, had I been newly introduced to Libba Bray (if that makes sense).
All in all, I was still hooked by the first few paragraphs, the writing was just as evocative as I remembered, and there were even a couple of creepy moments that sent a small shiver up my spine.