A Great & Terrible Beauty – A Review

Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Published by: Random House
Year of Publication: December 9th 2003
Series: Gemma Doyle Trilogy
Pages: 403
Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Gemma Doyle is an outright teenage rebel with an attitude that is unforgivable in the Victorian Era. Hating her existence in the dusty and grueling plains of India, she harbours a great deal of dislike for her mother mainly because she does not comply to Gemma’s wish of moving back to London and attending a finishing school for proper young ladies.
Under very mysterious circumstances, Gemma’s mother loses her life shunning her husband, Gemma’s father into an oblivion where his life is ruled by alcohol consumption. Thus suddenly Gemma’s wish comes true when she is transported to London where she is admitted into Spence Academy, a finishing school where proper young ladies are honed to make perfect dutiful wives to their husbands. Wracked by guilt for being ruthlessly sarcastic and intolerable towards her mother, Gemma deeply blames herself for her mother’s untimely demise and is unable to celebrate her admittance to London’s society.

Gemma’s life actually begins within the decrepit walls of  Spence. There is much more to her than she herself can fathom. Apart from few overwhelming visions she has, on the way to Spence, she has no understanding whatsoever of what her life awaits in Spence. Bent on finding out the truth behind her mother’s untimely death, Gemma braces herself for places that her search for truth may take her to. One thing is for sure though. She is the only one who holds the key to a great and terrible beauty.

Pros: The book blurb was enough for me to choose this one above all the others in the book shop. I am a huge Victorian Gothic ficiton aficionado and I was more than happy to find this one. A Great and Terrible Beauty commences with a lot of intrigue and a lot of action. Set in Victorian India and London, readers are immediately thrown into hair-raising occurrences that promises more as the story unfolds. Gemma’s character comes across as a haughty teenager who could be any teenage girl of today’s world. However, she is not and therefore, is a kind of a misfit in the society which only breeds “proper” ladies. Her redeeming qualities are her strength of character and the no-nonsense attitude which is perhaps a bit too liberated for girls of the Victorian age.
The strength of the book lies in strong female characters such as Gemma, Felicity, Ann & Pippa who although starts off on a wrong note, gradually proceeds on to strike a friendship. The plot is brilliant and the intrigue breathless, the opening chapters are full of promise of a greater suspense.

Cons: In the chapters that follow, the story stretches on without much happening. The intrigue that was built in the initial part of the story fizzles out when Gemma is not able to fathom the true nature of her gift entirely. The male characters lacks voice and Karthik although meant to provide a character foil to Gemma, does much less than he can actually do. He appears out of nowhere and the readers are not quite enlightened on how he managed to travel to London from India and that if he risked all he had, in order to travel to London following Gemma, why would he maintain such a distance from her? Gemma’s and Karthik’s relationship takes a shriveling effect even before it can blossom. For the first book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy, certain aspects of their relationship could have been explored much more.

Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. A Great and Terrible Beauty most definitely deserves to be read. With the author’s superfluous and suggestive writing style, the readers shall not go disappointed at any rate. It shows that Bray is well acquainted to what was fashionable and not, during the Victorian era and that itself is a major strength of the novel.  At an age where women were merely instruments of pleasure, of keeping their home and hearth warm for their men, and at an age where she was most appreciated when she was very courteous and excelled in domestic virtues,  these brazen strong independent characters of women strike the readers as unique. The setting of the novel itself provides for a charming bedside reading atmosphere. The atmosphere of chill and shadowy existence lurking behind the curtains within the ruinous facade of Spence Academy provides an interesting Young Adult Victorian Gothic Treat.

2 Responses to “A Great & Terrible Beauty – A Review”

  • Kriti says:

    Sounds good Yoshay – 31/2 from you is worth reading for sure. Thanks for this review and now I have added it to my wishlist : )

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Yoshay Lama

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