My rating: 3.5 of 5 genies
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic, Paranormal, Adventure, Mystery
Published: December 9, 2003
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Source: Library Loan
Purchase At: TheBookDepository.com or Amazon.com
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.
Cover: 4.5: I can't get over the fact that the model looks strikingly like Alexa Vega, from behind!
Rating: 3.5 genies
Did I forget to mention earlier? These kids are kind of messed.
But before I delve headlong into the negatives, let me begin by pointing out what I liked about A Great and Terrible Beauty:
- I enjoyed Gemma and her dry humor and at times, she took me by surprise with her wit.
- The setting was perfectly historical and the time period proved itself to be a chilling escape once I convinced myself to sit down long enough to read through it.
- Libba Bray's writing is captivating and I found little trouble navigating through her world.
-Kartik's mysterious character left me intrigued.
- The humorous bits in some places of the book and scenarios involving certain characters had me in stitches, see my H.M. (honorable mention) below for more detail.
And now for the bad:
-Ann and Pippa proved to be by far the most irritating female characters I have ever encountered. Ann was this ungrateful suck-up, clinging to every rich and influential person within a 5m radius, determined to use people every bit to her advantage as possible, and more specifically Gemma. It was a wonder that Gemma repeatedly went out on a limb for her! Oh, and I hated her annoying crush on Tom. She thinks so highly of herself that it makes my skin crawl, and I needed to put the book aside for a minute or two whenever her cringe-worthy habits began to rear their ugly head; it was that bad.
Whereas, Pippa was just hard to understand and I am not 100% sure Ms. Bray knew what to do with her either. At times she was cruel and in an instant, childish or gentle. Don't think that I cannot hear you people out there crying: "Tis the mark of a truly round character to change!" Because I can, and you are all wrong. These traits did not do anything for the book, and in my opinion just served to puzzle the reader. [ I actually found myself feeling relieved about her death because that meant one less headache for me! Now if only Ann would die... (hide spoiler)]
- The almost completely one-sided relationship between Kartik and Gemma was ridiculous! Man, what did it consist of again? Oh, yes. One kiss on her part and then multiple hot-flash dreams again strictly from Gemma? It was sad, not in an endearing way that promised their togetherness, but in a "I need a good romance where the main guy actually knows the girl exists and doesn't so obviously want her friend," sad. I shall need to cleanse myself later with a good and real romance.
If there had been more interaction between the two I wouldn't have minded as much, but there wasn't. So am I to believe that he knew about those dream encounters and chose simply not to act on them? It is never clarified and his feelings for her are still very much shrouded.
- The true and simple way in which Ms. Bray goes about contradicting herself is truly awful. It made no sense to me why a worker of Circe would tell Gemma the truth about defeating her master, let alone help her by giving her the key to destroying itself? I liked the aspect of her meeting her mother to cope through her death...but then Bray ruined it by throwing everything up in the air for some minor shock-value. Not worth it!
- I also disliked how long it took for the action to begin. Nothing happened until 200 pages into the book and that should never be the case, ever. I should have been swept away at max, page 50/80.
- One thing in particular that bothered me was how forced the relationship between the four girls appeared, not for a second did I believe they were true friends and that little scene with the deer only proved me more right. Friends trust each other and believe the best in the other, striving to bring those qualities to light so that more than just they may see the brilliance of which their friend is capable. These girls used each other; whether it be for companionship, recognition, access to the power or flighty wishes, it was all about what they could gain from the other.
The sad thing is that Gemma still considers them her friends. Anyone else notice something wrong?
With the positives and negatives laid bare, I can only say that there is still hope for this series yet and I look forward to the next installment. I want to see what else could possibly go wrong, and hopefully witness a real relationship between Gemma and Kartik. Hey, Disney did say to dream.
Last but not least, H.M. (honorable mention): Can go to no other but Sally Carnie. She redeemed so much of this book for me, I cannot begin to explain with sleep behind my eyelids because I would never do her justice. But that scene with her and Gemma in the forest? Priceless.
I couldn't make my mind up about you, you were almost there, almost perfect, but overall something was missing. Still a special piece of literature, though, 3 and a half genies.