Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1) by Libba Bray

Synopsis (via Goodreads):
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.

Gemma, 16, 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.
My Take: I'm not really sure how I feel about this book.  I went into expecting something different- don't ask me what, just something different- and I was a little surprised at how long it took the meat of the story to unfold.

That said, Libba Bray makes the world of Victorian England come alive.  The corsets, the rigid upbringings, the expectation that a daughter was nothing more than a piece to move around the board. That was all done wonderfully.  I think it was Gemma's early life in India and the freedom she experienced there (as limited as it was) that brought all that to life.  Gemma feels just as trapped as the other girls, the difference being that she's tasted what's out there.  Pippa, Felicity and Ann haven't.

I thought the feelings Gemma felt for Kartik rang true.  She doesn't know what she wants, yet she knows she wants something. She doesn't know why she's drawn to this boy who threatens the very things she's learning to embrace about herself.  Their unexpected kiss in the Gypsy camp was equal parts sweet and hot.

All in all, there was a lot I enjoyed about the book.  Yet it still wasn't what I was expecting.  I liked the idea behind the Realms and the Shadowlands and I'd like to see more about them, especially how they can be used.  By the time Gemma and her friends are traveling to the Realms and unraveling the mystery behind the diary, I was beginning to get a little tired of their self-centered ways.

It's more than likely that I'll read the next two in the series because I'm one of those people who likes to know how things end.  I guess if I take it as a glimpse at a slice of Victorian repression mixed in with some touches of magic and mayhem, I can go into it with a clearer idea of what I'm getting into.

And my Read-A-Thon has been completed!

More books by Libba Bray

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