A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Book - 2003
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After the suspicious death of her mother in 1895, sixteen-year-old Gemma returns to England, after many years in India, to attend a finishing school where she becomes aware of her magical powers and ability to see into the spirit world.
Publisher: New York :, Delacorte Press,, 2003.
ISBN: 9780385730280
Branch Call Number: Y FIC BRAY
Characteristics: 403 pages ; 22 cm

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WPL_Erin Mar 12, 2021

Fantastic fantasy novel that combines classic mythology and Victorian England.

Oct 10, 2019

This book got off to a slow start, but the series as a whole was phenomenal. The plot was unique and engaging!

SPPL_Violet Mar 17, 2018

Neo-victorian fantasy for teens. Girl power!

CRRL_MegRaymond Feb 06, 2018

Gemma leaves India for an English finishing school, where she learns that she has magical powers.

Oct 24, 2017

I heard very good things about this series and so I went into this with very high expectations...and sadly those expectations were completely unmet.

Basic plot of the story, spoiled selfish girl lived in India and after her mother's death gets sent to England where she wanted to be all along, and oh there's magic.

There were three main things that I had a problem with in this entire book, (there was a lot more as well but these were the three that were constant) so to let you know here's some lists of what I didn't care for.

*Gemma. She is annoying, spoiled, whinging about the whole time and just basically a bland boring character. She really didn't have much (if any) depth, nor did I feel that she really grew as a character. There wasn't really any arc to speak of. Granted she did feel guilty about bringing the magic into the real world, but she never really stood up to her "friends" and never really made me feel for her.
Also, every single side character seemed to lack any sort of depth or defining character. (I can understand some of the girls being shallow and not very well-rounded characters because it is about a girl's school so therefore you will have many characters that are just on the sidelines but when it's all of them? And when you can't actually differentiate from one of Gemma's friends to herself because they all sound the same? Yeah, no.)

*the writing style/lack of plot. Girl has argument with mom. Mom dies (this is not a spoiler, this happens in the first chapter). Girl gets sent to place she wants. Girl finds magic. (That is literally the plot of this book)
This was full of info-dumps and 'random' coincidences that all happened to tie together and get everything all nicely presented. However, the problem with having tons of info-dumps meant that for most of the book I was supremely confused as to not only how they did certain things, but also the reasoning behind it.
I felt like this author had a good idea, but it got hidden because we had no clue about this world or the magic or anything about this. There were scenes when they would do something and it just wouldn't make any sense with what might have been told to us earlier. Also with the general lack of plot or moving forward or anything like that, there were so many chapters when I just thought "this is still going on?"

* The casual fat/ugly shaming and self harm that is not only never addressed, but pretty much ignored. Ann is fat. Ann is ugly. How do we know this? Because it is mentioned every single time that she is brought up in conversation; she also self-harms, gee I wonder why she would want to self-harm when people tell her to her face about this all the time.
And Gemma (who is supposed to be the heroine of the story) doesn't stand up for her, doesn't become a friend for any purpose then it serves her purpose.

Those were the main things that I really intensely disliked about this book. I have to say, I think that this might be a case of "it's not the book for me" because I know that a lot of people loved this series and think it's amazing. However, it's just not my cup of tea. If you liked it, awesome! If not, awesome as well. We all have different opinions on books so that's a great thing!

VaughanPLChristineO Jan 09, 2017

I really liked the Diviners, also by Libba Bray so when I saw this available on Overdrive I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. The occult and secret societies enhance the reader's understanding of Victorian culture. The characters are believable even though they are doing unbelievable things. I recommend this book to older teens especially those who like other steam punk classics like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, and boarding school stories like Gail Carriger's Finishing School series Rainbow Rowell'so Carry On, or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. I'm looking forward to reading the other two in the series.

LPL_KimberlyL Feb 29, 2016

A boarding school story with a paranormal twist! After her mother dies under violent circumstances, Gemma's family moves her from her home in India to a boarding school in England, where she can be educated on being a proper young lady. She discovers she has the ability to visit the spirit world, a gift her three new friends celebrate with her. A novel about female friendship, a world in which women had few options, and young women who choose to take their destiny in their own hands. After you finish, you'll question why you haven't read any Libba Bray before! She's magnificent!

Aug 25, 2015

this book is fantastic! loved the concept and all the mysteries involving the school, gemma's visions, and the notebook she finds. great plot that kept me in suspense the entire time!!!

May 30, 2015

It had potential but I found the characters to be a bit cliche and stale.

May 18, 2015

“A Great and Terrible Beauty” takes place in Victorian era India and England. Gemma Doyle is sixteen years old, and lives in British imperialized India. After witnessing her mother’s murder in a vision, Gemma is sent by her father to England, where she attends Spence Academy for Young Ladies. At Spence, Gemma eventually befriends three other girls, and they learn that within Spence’s dark corners and creaking halls, magic and ancient orders lurk.

This novel is absolutely incredible. The plot line is breathtaking – it is never dull, and is always driven and moving. It is extremely obvious that Bray always knew what she was doing with this novel, and that she never questioned her strong plotline at any point. The characters are gorgeously crafted, and each one is unique and clever. Gemma is a good role model for any young girl, as she is brave and quick-witted, and never gives up on herself or her friends. The setting is elegant, and truly gives “A Great and Terrible Beauty” a sense of mystery and fantasy. Just by reading the first chapters of this novel, any reader can see that Bray has a gift for writing historical fiction.

Overall, the author of this review highly recommends “A Great and Terrible Beauty”. In fact, it is one of her favourite books of all time. Unfortunately, this novel has minimal symbolism and deeper meanings, and therefore would not be suitable as an essay book or ‘book talk’ book. “A Great and Terrible Beauty” is better suited as a pleasure read. The author of this review believes “A Great and Terrible Beauty” to be suitable for ages thirteen and up.

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May 30, 2015

zhall thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

Jan 02, 2015

ChocolateChips thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

Aug 03, 2011

KKPGIRL thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

May 29, 2010

liz_z2 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Dec 06, 2009

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Add a Quote
Dec 02, 2013

"All the small, simple, conscious acts of living [are] a sudden defense against the dying we do every day" (397).

Dec 02, 2013

Gemma (thought): "Let's draw the curtains and stay in, warm and safe, away from the uncertain woods" (204).

Dec 02, 2013

Miss Moore: "Your mind is not a cage. It's a garden. And it requires cultivating" (128).


Add a Summary
Kate Anna Burnham
Aug 13, 2008

Gemma Doyle is sent to London after her mother's mysterious death. Suddenly Gemma recieves visions. Then she meets an Indian Boy named Kartik whom is from a clan called the Rakshana. He tells her to close her visions, but Gemma cannot as it's the only way to contact her mother.


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Jul 16, 2010

Sexual Content: This title contains Sexual Content.

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