Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Great and Terrible Beauty

It's been a while since I updated with a book review, and this one was I particularly loved. Libba Bray is a relatively uknown author outside of her first mainstream trilogy, but I have a feeling that we'll be hearing from her again soon. The first book in what is known as the Gemma Doyle triology is called A Great and Terrible Beauty. It revolves around the interactions of the young women at an austere boarding school which houses secrets which have remained under dusty lock and key for decades.

Following the suicide of Gemma's mother on the Indian streets on which she was raised, Gemma is transported to Spence Academy to learn how to become a proper young lady ready to be released for the matrimonial picking of London's finest gentlement. Unschooled in the interworkings of young girls, Gemma is shocked at the cruelty displayed by her English peers. While she herself is a formidable target for would-be bullies, Gemma begins to notice that a particular group of girls is making life difficult for an underprivileged and unfortunate girl named Ann, her new roommate. On top of her attempts to make Ann's life a little easier, Gemma is plagued by visions which allude to the existence of a world exterior to our own, which contains the most desirable and wonderful of things, as well as the worst, and most horrific. As the story unfolds, Gemma's connection to the realms she glimpses is unravelled with the narrative expertise of a writer whose talent is extremely apparent, and as her supernatural ability reveals itself, the girls who proved former tormentors begin to expose their vulnerabilities in a world where they are traded as commodities.

Felicity longs for the power to influence those around her. Ann, cursed with unattractiveness, wishes to be beautiful so that her unfortunate past is perhaps more concealable, and Pippa, the most stunning of the four, desparately wants the opportunity to find true love for herself rather than walk down the aisle toward the incompatible husband and dreary future her parents have arranged for her. Gemma's deepest desire is to have the inner workings of herself revealed to her, so that she may understand her role in both the worlds she inhabits.

All four girls are appeased in their deepest desires when Gemma begins to control her ability to access the realms, and the greatest wishes of the girls are within tangible reach. Meeting in a cave adorned with Celtic prehistoric imagery in the dead of night, the girls explore the realms and the diary of a student of Spence past which begins to reveal, page by page, a destiny which awaits Gemma.

Brimming with Gothic eeriness and a modern understanding of teenage girls, A Great and Terrible Beauty provides insightful commentary into the lives of women during the late 1800s. I felt drawn into the inner circle of the Spence girls, as if I were a part of the illicit secret they harboured, and I was as enthralled by the novel's plot as the protaganists were by the diary of their predecessors.

The novel crept up to a suspenseful and dramatic ending, with more than one surprise I most certainly did not expect. Absolutely unputdownable! I'm so glad I read it, as this is one I'd been tossing up on for literally years.

I give this book my highest reccommendation to anyone looking for, as they would have put it in Gemma's day, "a rollicking good read".

The following books are: Rebel Angels and A Sweet Far Thing. I'm sure you'll get an update on these as I finish them!

Thanks to Gracie, a fellow superbookworm (because we're more avid than your average bookworms) who reccommended this wonderful novel to me.

thanks for reading.


1 comment:

  1. That was such an amazing review Claire. It completely captured the whole tone of the book and series. I'm glad you enjoyed it! And yes we are superbookworms we definitely go beyond the norm I think :p x

    If I hadn't already read this book this review would intrigue me and I would definitely read it.