a great and terrible beauty by libba bray

Posted on May 30, 2009


I see the makings of a Great and Terrible Betrayal instead…

It’s 1895, and proper British girls are supposed to become proper English wives. With her mother’s suicide, having visions of shades devouring people’s souls, and used to the colorful chaos of India, 16-year old Gemma is raw and shaking. She is shipped off to a proper boarding school in England to calm her, and to keep her from underfoot of her family’s grief.

great-and-terrible-beautyAt the school, a gothic setup in the middle of the woods, peopled by gypsies, and pitted with caves, a strange game plays out between Gemma, the school’s pack leaders—haughty Felicity and beautiful Pippa, and proverbial underdog—poor and graceless Anne.

At first, the name of the game was one-upmanship.  But, with every advantage, after each concession, these girls’ antipathy transforms into a bond. Gemma is perceptive enough, and lonely enough, to see that these girls, brats all yet full of personality, were all straining against the conventions society has crowned them with—just as she is.

Felicity wants to be powerful; Pippa desires true love; Anne wishes to be beautiful; and Gemma seeks self-knowledge. A 20-year old diary found buried in the woods tells Gemma she was not the only one with strange abilities. It also somehow turned a key in Gemma’s mind.

Armed with this little, in between tea, waltz lessons, French and painting classes, and genteel manicured lawn games, Gemma decides to set her new friends free, for a time, by opening a gate into the realms, the magical world that we go to when we dream, that only a select few can go to at will.

Unfortunately, Gemma not only set caged animals free, she also let an evil force loose. There was a reason why the Realms have been closed off for such a long time.

The first of a trilogy, A Great and Terrible Beauty is not your run-of-the-mill Gossip Girl-type YA. It’s dark, with heavy doses of The Craft mixed in with The Secret Garden and the Little Princess. The result is intoxicating, and seductive—both the read and in how the magic affected the girls… and complex.

Though the girls have fallen in with one another, I’m sure they will just as quickly fall out of it, given another chance to get what they want. They are flawed, damaged, and very greedy. They cannot see it yet, but they are actually enemies, even as circumstances make them into allies. Can Gemma use them as they use her?

To save the world, the realms, and each other, she must become the tyrant of their grand little clique. It really is a great and terrible beauty.


Oh, yeah. A mysterious young man follows Gemma around—to protect her, or for something else? They have a steamy scene together, almost for real, in their dreams. Edward and Bella, eat your hearts out!

Posted in: fantastic