Friday, March 1, 2013

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Gemma Doyle #1
Published by Simon and Schuster; December 9, 2003
Hardcover, 403 pages
 Borrowed from library

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.

Sixteen-year-old Gemma 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. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.

- Description from

I still have not been able to form thoughts on this book properly. My head right now is such a mess because, oh!, how this book confused me so! 

Here is a list of questions I have that SHOULD have been answered:

1. What is the significance of the Order?
2. What is the Rakshana's purpose exactly? 
3. Why does Kartik follow around Gemma? Aren't there other Rakshana to do this job?
4. Do the Rakshana have magic?
5. What are the Realms? I don't get them.
6. Why are the Realms important?
7. What are the Runes?
8. Why are there illusions?
9. Why is bringing magic out dangerous?
10. What is the significance of the amulet?
11. Why does Gemma get visions? (Also I think she really only got one vision...I don't think the blurb can say "that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true"...)

See? Do you get why I'm confused? I mean, at least half of these questions should have been answered! It's the same feeling I get when I'm in class, and I just feel like I learned nothing. And then I find out I have a quiz on something I didn't learn. Exactly that feeling. How can I write a review on a book that I got nothing out of? The story had tons of potential: the setting was vibrant, the scenes were intense, there was a bit of jealousy, some kissing, some magic, awesome boarding school-ness, some creepiness, and some really frightening scenes. The pacing was odd, though and there didn't seem to be an actual plot/problem. It was more a book of discovery - of Gemma, that is. I don't have any problem with books of discovery, but I expected more. I expected ACTION and though I got it, it didn't match my expectations. 

In the blurb at the back of the book, it mentions that Gemma "discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy group called the Order". I didn't actually think we discovered much. All that we found out really, is what was stated in that sentence. That her mother was connected to the Order. Or a part of? I have no clue. 

I'm sorry, my head hurts from all this deciphering. I am so confused. I had to go onto the Wikipedia page to figure out stuff (along with some spoilers...) and I'm still confused. What I can say, besides the stuff I have already said, is that Ms. Bray addresses some real issues on women equality here. And it really opens eyes because even though this was set in the 1800's, we still face the same issues! Really! I find that a bit embarrassing. I respect Ms. Bray as an author and as a person after reading her interview at the back of the book. I would definitely like to chat with her.

Overall, this wasn't a bad book. It was very good and I liked that it was mostly action and mystery. I really do need a break from romance. Gemma was a strong character, as was Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. There are many modern issues addressed here and I appreciated that. However, the book was very open-ended. It was good, but I think a lot more could have been explained. Do I really want to read the next two books to establish exactly what the whole idea of this trilogy is about? No. Will I? Probably not, seeing as I've already checked Wikipedia for spoilers. Still an enjoyable read, and I know some people really loved this book. You're better off borrowing it though, unless you know for sure you'll like it.

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