Book Geek Wednesday: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

I’ve heard some really great things about this book. In fact, it was recommended to me by one of my coworkers at the bookstore. I’d been eyeing it on the shelves for a while and it had been singled out on the YA recommended reads section so I thought it might be worth a try. I loved the cover and was excited by the prospect of reading a good fantasy/paranormal historical (because historicals are a bit of a weakness for me). Unfortunately, it hasn’t been going as well as I’d expected.

The book centers around Gemma Doyle, a sixteen year old sent to Spence Academy after her mother dies in India. The situation surrounding her mother’s death is mysterious and help us understand that Gemma isn’t like other girls – she suspects she is having visions of the future. At Spence she finds herself among snobby elitist girls and for a while she’s forced to be an outsider. But the more time she spends at the Academy, the more secrets she unravels about her mother and about her own power – if it wasn’t for the young man constantly warning her she shouldn’t pursue these visions.

For starters, I was thrilled about the setting. India and then Victorian England?! I expected to fall in love. Unfortunately, it didn’t wow me. The only time I ever really felt the setting was when the gypsies appeared or when the girls talked of their male prospects, usually disgusting older men waiting for them to finish their grooming so that they could be young trophy wives. Other than that, Gemma seems very much a modern day heroine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not what I expected.

The mystery is well done and it is revealed slowly, perhaps too slowly for my taste. The book delves in gothic undertones and definitely has a creepy factor, delving into dark aspects of magic and clairvoyance. Some people love that. In this case, it just didn’t really work for me.

But if you like a chilling mystery, the romance of a historical time period and paranormal elements, then this book is for you.

My Rating: C+/B- (prepares to receive hatemail)

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About Isabelle

Isabelle is a multi-published author who dabbles in 1950s romance, speculative science fiction, and more recently fantasy and YA. A twenty something dreamer who loves chocolate, romance novels, and heart wrenching movies, Isabelle is most comfortable on stage behind a microphone belting out her favorite karaoke tunes, or curled up in bed with a book and a cup of cocoa on a rainy night. View all posts by Isabelle

11 responses to “Book Geek Wednesday: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

  • Susan

    I absolutely loved this entire series! I agree that the Indian setting didn’t advance the plot much, but I loved the school setting. And in the second book, they go to London, which is great. I also read this series right after Twilight, so I was really happy about how feminist and modern the characters were. It might not be historically accurate, but it made for a good read! 🙂

  • Lisa

    I would have been dragged in by the India/Victorian England bit, too. What can I say, one of my favorite books as a kid was The Little Princess, and yeah, it’s pretty much exactly that. Sad to hear you didn’t love this like you thought you would, Isabelle! But Susan and lots of others have, so… hm…

  • Aimee

    bummer dude.

    shame you didn’t love it as much as I did!

    • Isabelle

      I know. I really really wanted to, which makes me all the more disappointed. Lots of other people love it which is great. But, to each his own, you know. And this one just wasn’t a home run for me.

  • Cristin

    I read these books a couple of years ago and was torn about them. The magic part of it never really grabbed me, so I wasn’t particularly interested in that other world they would visit or its overarching storyline.

    What I thought was by far the strongest part of the books was the girls trying to find their place in a society that none of them were quite right for in different ways. This is more prominent in the next two books where they’re out in society, but I thought the Victorian stuff was much more interesting and successful than the magical stuff. (And, as is often the case, I thought sidekick Felicity was a much more compelling character than Gemma and would probably rather seen her as the narrator). I wish Bray had just written a straight-up historical novel about teenage girls trying to exist in such a repressive society, I think I would have loved that book.

    • Isabelle

      Cristin, I agree with you 110%. I would have LOVED to read a historical novel in the Victorian era. The magic didn’t grab me either.

      And I did like Felicity very much, though I often felt bad for her. The girls in school were so mean.

    • Lisa

      I find myself liking the best friend quite often, too, over the narrator. Either the narrator isn’t as interesting as the other characters in the book, or no one else is as interesting as the narrator. Sigh.

      Fantastic points about Bray’s possibly taking on too much.

      (P.S. We LOVE your comments!)

  • Book Geek Wednesday: Discussion « Tales From The Hollow Tree

    […] second time this happened to me, I wasn’t so lucky. I kept struggling with A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, which I reviewed, and as you see, I wasn’t thrilled with it. But, not every book is going to […]

  • Movie Magic Monday: Books to Movies Updates « Tales From The Hollow Tree

    […] not all. Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, is also coming to […]

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