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.
Gemma Doyle finds herself in front of an English boarding school after she sees her mother die of mysterious consequences. She’s been in India almost all her life and now that she’s in England, she realizes how different she is compared to English girls. At Spence Academy, she experiences discrimination and at the same time, has difficulty understanding the visions that appear in her mind. She’s drawn to a magical world called the Realms and she needs to find the key to enter it.
The diary left behind by two dead girls from the Academy helps her discover a secret society called The Order, and soon, she and her newfound friends, Pippa and Felicity embark on a journey of epic and magical proportions. Sounds cliche but this is indeed one heck of an adventure, traveling between realms and including gypsies, magical entities, soul-suckers and so much more. A journey that eventually leads them to danger and even death.
I didn’t know what to expect before reading this book. My mindset was focused on the Indian story at the beginning, but soon deviated to English Victorian era when the main character was sent to her dream place. I found the change of pace refreshing and not forced. The characters had their own unique personalities and you can’t help but empathize with them, even though deep inside you really want to pull Pippa & Felicity’s hair. The gypsy Kartik was someone to look forward to.
I think Libba Bray deserves to be called a bestseller. She’s a prolific writer and one that really does her research. The unique realm she created was tremendous and overwhelming. All those myths and legends and fantasy rolled into one was done perfectly. Gotta have to read Rebel Angels really soon!