A Great and Terrible Beauty - by Libba Bray
"leaves you hiding under your covers, flashlight in hand"
A Great and Terrible Beauty is an absolutely stunning book, set against Victorian Era Britain. It is the story of Gemma Doyle, a girl with strange powers and a terrible secret. Gemma grew up in India and is sent to a boarding school in England after tragedy strikes her family. At the boarding school, she gets entangled with the schools most powerful girls. Here they form a secret society known as “The Order,” guided by a mysterious diary of a girl named Mary Dowd.
This book is very much a Jane Eyre meets modern fantasy story. Bray masterfully weaves her story around both elements. On one hand, you are fascinated by Gemma’s ascent into society and the prospect of finding a husband. On the other, you are chilled to the bone and afraid of her hidden powers. While reading, you're not sure whether you should be cheery and happy, or whether you should be hiding under your covers, flashlight in hand.
That is one of the things that make this book so enjoyable. Fortunately for most people, this is not one of those books where you must wait six or seven chapters to get into the story. Bray does not waste time with little bitty nit-picky details that are tiresome to read; from the very first few pages, you are engrossed. You find out things as the character does, so there’s little to no dramatic irony.
Though I mostly have nothing to say but good things for this book, a few things were quite disappointing. Some of the plot twists were incredibly predictable. (I won’t spoil them, but you will know them when you see them.) A few of the characters seemed underdeveloped, or underutilized. A couple of the girls are very one-sided. I realize that the author was trying to show how things were in the era, but it was really hard to relate to those characters.
Despite these few and minor grievances, I absolutely loved the book! I would give it four and a half out of five stars. I highly recommend it to everyone (though, I think that girls would probably enjoy this book the most.) This book has a sequel Rebel Angels and there is a third book in the trilogy coming out this winter. I look forward to reading both.