*repost from jamipack.blogspot.com
So, Libba Bray can write! I have heard so many great things about Libba Bray and A Great and Terrible Beauty did not disappoint. The Victorian setting was so well researched that it flowed perfectly between the paranormal elements and the everyday life of rich boarding school girls. It almost seemed like the magical elements in the story should have been a normal part of our historical understanding of Victorian England. It was woven together seamlessly.
“I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us.”
A Great and Terrible Beauty follows a young Gemma Doyle, who is sent to a boarding school just after she witnesses her mother’s murder in India through a vision. While at school, Gemma begins to realize that she has some magical powers that allows her to see visions, travel to other realms and control her environment. She discovers a secret diary of a former student who also had the same powers. Gemma and her friends Felicity, Pippa and Ann enjoy using the powers in a secret cave to escape their predetermined, boring lives. That is until a dark force begins to appear.
So many good things going on in this book. First, Gemma is a flawed, bratty but incredibly smart girl that doesn’t fear defying feminine expectations of the Victorian era. She disrupts the natural pecking order at school and is bullied for it; only she doesn’t just sit back and take it. She fires back, stands up for their other victims and eventually earns their respect. She has no fear. Sometimes that gets her into trouble, but it also helps her and her group break free from those ridiculous sanctions forced on young women of the time. The feminism is not missed in this book and is actually addressed by the characters rather than just glossed over as part of life. Gemma, Pippa, Felicity and Ann actually take action. Second, the paranormal/ magical realism aspect of this story is fantastically done. It fits naturally into the story and seems like something teenage girls would be interested in learning about. Lastly, the sexuality of the story seems true to life as well. There is experimentation, longing and shame; all feelings that teenagers would experience in real life even today. It makes Gemma much more accessible character since she appears modern in this sense rather than the pure virgin female characters that are expected. Gemma is more real even with magical powers than many other female protagonists in the historical fiction genre.
The only complaint I had of the novel, was the fact that so much information on the magic and the rules of magic were withheld for the first two/thirds of the book. Gemma’s mother just kept telling her “no” when she asked to learn more. It kind of felt like a ploy to keep the reader going rather than organic to the story. I think the mother should have given her bits of information throughout the story rather than the info dump that happened at the end. But this does not take away from the wonderful shinning aspects of Bray’s character development and prose.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Young Adult books with magical realism, paranormal aspects or historical fiction. A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. I can’t wait to get the next book, Rebel Angels! 4.5 stars!
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