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A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy) Paperback – March 22, 2005
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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 mothers 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 wi! th the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy. (Ages 12 up) Patty Campbell --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up An interesting combination of fantasy, light horror, and historical fiction, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. On her 16th birthday, Gemma Doyle fights with her mother. She wants to leave India where her family is living, runs off when her mother refuses to send her to London to school, has a dreadful vision and witnesses her mother's death. Two months later, Gemma is enrolled in London's Spence School, still troubled by visions, and unable to share her grief and guilt over her loss. She gradually learns to control her vision and enter the "realms" where magical powers can make anything happen and where her mother waits to instruct her. Gradually she and her new friends learn about the Order, an ancient group of women who maintained the realms and regulated their power, and how two students unleashed an evil creature from the realms by killing a Gypsy girl. Gemma uncovers her mother's connection to those events and learns what she now must do. The fantasy element is obvious, and the boarding-school setting gives a glimpse into a time when girls were taught gentility and the importance of appearances. The author also makes a point about the position of women in Victorian society. Bray's characters are types--Felicity, clever and powerful; Ann, plain and timid; Pippa, beautiful and occasionally thoughtless; Gemma, spirited and chafing under society's rules--but not offensively so, and they do change as the story progresses. The ending leaves open the likelihood of a sequel. Recommend this to fantasy fans who also like Sherlock Holmes or Mary Russell.--Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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That, my friends, is the beginning for Gemma Doyle, a sixteen year old girl living in India during the Victorian era. Never once has anything so strange happened to her, but on the day she runs away from her mother she is attacked by a horrid vision. She runs to look for her mother; surely it is all a mistake. But when the after effects of the vision come to life, the truth is there; cold and hard. Is it her fault? She was so painfully frustrated being trapped in India when it was not meant to be her world. She said hateful words to her mother, and then it happened. Who is to blame?
No, this is not so much a mystery novel, although there are many mysteries within the trilogy. It's almost as if this novel cannot have a single genre. It's not just a paranormal romance, a supernatural, fantasy adventure, or even thriller filled with suspense. In it's essence its genre is life, with a touch of magic. Not only is the story magical, but so is the writing styles of Libba Bray. The story comes to life in the most vividly detailed writing I have ever read. When reading this book, you truly feel and know each character; you are each character at any given point of the novel. You're living vicariously through these characters, developing relationships, and discovering a new world. Fear will course through you, but so will sheer happiness. I once compared this book to my own Wonderland, in which I fall down a hole and escape the realities of my life. It is quite true. I've read this book many times often as an escape; a very beautiful escape.
After the death of Gemma's mother she is sent to Spence Academy for Girls. There she meets Ann Bradshaw, a sponsor student. She discovers what will be frenimies of sorts; Miss Felicity Worthington and Pippa Cross. Despite their differences, the group joins together, bound by untold secrets and a wish to be free of society's rules. Visions continue to attack Gemma, of which a mysterious Indian boy insists are dangerous and she must stop having them. Yet, how can she stop something she hasn't control? And when she does gain control; what does that mean? Soon, Gemma discovers a world of its own with her friends. It is a magical world in which the dead reside briefly, a limbo of sorts, and anything is possible. Such an exciting world without the constraints of society! What will they find there? And is it all as beautiful as it seems ; this world where leaves can turn into butterflies and beauty is but a wish away?
My friend Stephanie recommended this book, because I liked Twilight. There are no vampires here, no Edward's or Jacob's. In fact, it's quite different. Honestly, I think Twilight may have been an excuse to force this beautiful novel upon me J Which is quite okay, because I truly enjoyed it. Even more than my sexy Edward and my adorable Jacob. This story is much more mature and deeper than that of the Twilight Saga. There are more surprises, twists, and turns. I highly recommend the Gemma Doyle trilogy to anyone who likes to read. In fact, even if you hate reading, you should read this novel. It will change you; I promise!
"You mind is not a cage. It's a garden" --- Miss Moore
I was not disappointed. Some twists I was able to foresee, but gleefully got to be surprised by others. Libba Bray has crafted a very strong novel for readers young and old, and I can't wait to see how the rest of the trilogy plays out!
Its downfall for me was that in places it seemed rushed, as if the author hadn't quite thought some of the plot lines through before putting them down on paper, and unfortunately some of those places were crucial ones.
In particular, the arcs of the main characters didn't quite hold up to scrutiny. First, I thought Pippa would have been brilliant and her journey complete if she'd truly chosen death. At the end of the first book (the best, imo) that's what seemed to have happened. Maybe I was misreading, but it seemed a bit of a cheat when suddenly, eating the berries meant not only that she died on earth, but also that she couldn't gain absolution in the realms. In fact, look too hard at that point and a lot of the realms mythology starts to unravel...but mostly, her presence just got tiresome. She seemed to be hanging around only to make other characters' points for them.
Namely, Felicity. She (along with Kartik) was actually my favorite character in the series - but again, it seemed there was a bit of an about-face between the end of the first book and the other two. I thought it was great that the author looked at alternative sexuality through Felicity's character. My problem was that Felicity went from kissing Ithal in the woods in the first book to admitting a long standing lesbian affair with Pippa in the last one. I could have believed that Felicity was lying to herself about feelings for Pippa and experimenting to try to subdue them, but I couldn't believe that Pippa with her romantic longings and imaginary knight had been the other half of a clandestine homosexual relationship all that time. I actually would have preferred to see Felicity struggling to come to that conclusion.
Ann was probably the truest drawn of the girls for me. Her actions all more or less made sense. What I couldn't quite figure out though was why any of them were friends with her when, as has already been pointed out by other reviewers, she never stood up for herself or for any of the others.
Which brings me to Gemma. Overall I liked her, although sometimes I found her obtuseness incredibly irritating. I agree with those reviewers who've said that she didn't really seem to mature or change enough over the course of her adventures. But to me the true travesty of Gemma was her ultimate fate. Okay, I didn't want Kartik to die any more than anyone else, but I actually do think it was necessary. I also saw it coming miles away, and so I spent a lot of the time I wasn't tearing through the last book trying to figure out how Bray was going to rise to the challenge of providing a suitable resolution to Gemma's journey if it didn't involve riding off into the sunset with the guy. And frankly, I saw the university/New York thing as a cop out.
First of all, it seemed to come out of midair. Gemma had never expressed any interest in either university or America, despite knowing that her future probably didn't include marrying Kartik. But more than that, she spent three books harping on about how much she missed India. Given that her father was going back there to die, and the way Kartik must have influenced her feelings about the place, I was frankly baffled as to why she didn't go back too.
As it was, I felt annoyed, even cheated by the end. Everyone else completed their journeys, but Gemma basically ran away to the first place that came to mind. We don't even know what she wanted to study, what university might have attracted her, and why, and what she might have done with a degree...and as a parting thrust of the knife, she gets to see Kartik in dreams. Argh! Not even real resolution. (See the end of 'His Dark Materials', if you haven't already - now there's a well-handled unhappy ending!)
Well, whatever. You could do far worse than to spend your time & money on these books. But they were so good, I just wanted them to be as good as they could have been.
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A thrilling paranormal read (and something the BBC should get their hands on), A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY ignites the shadows with a chilling tale...Read more