Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Press, Random House
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
At the turn of the century, in 1895, Gemma Doyle, who has lived in India all her sixteen years, is sent to a boarding school in London after the strange death of her mother. But it is in the Spence Academy that things start getting really strange. Along with the visions that Gemma has, and is warned not to have by a mysterious character, Gemma has to cope with the normal issues of a new girl at a new school. But normal gets overturned when the most popular girls induct her into their circle, and they form a secret group called the Order, taking the name of a group connected to the "occult." Events spiral out of Gemma's control as she learns horrifying things about what happened in the past and the girls get pulled into something that is much stronger than they are.
Gemma is an obnoxious brat, especially at the beginning of the book, but I loved her. Although she lives in the nineteenth century, she has characteristics of any normal girl. (Actually, the author gave her and other characters personalities that probably fit more into today's world than back then, but it works because of the odd happenings of the story. Bray addresses this issue in the interview at the end of the book.) All the characters come alive, each with their own issues and problems. At the beginning of the book, when Gemma first gets to Spence Academy and tries to fit in, the interactions of the popular group with the rest of the school sound like they could be happening at any high school today. And though the specific issues each girl has are exclusive to the time period in which they live, the girls' feelings and the way they deal with them are timeless.
The plot of the story is intricately woven, littered with tantalizing clues and bits of information that lead you on and keep you breathless. Every piece makes sense, but is just confusing enough to make you read farther to find out what on earth is going on. The farther I got into the story, the more I suspected every character of being involved with the enemy. And though I had begun to suspect something of the truth, I was utterly shocked at the revelation when Gemma finds out the truth about what is going on.
The present tense used in the book adds to the immediacy of all that happens and makes you feel as if it's happening right then. The one problem I had with the book was that there was a little confusion at some points because of the tense, like when Gemma has to reflect on something that had already happened. But the present tense and first-person point of view drew me into the story and almost made me feel like it was happening to me.
A Great and Terrible Beauty is a really great ride, with twists and turns and complications and surprises. I'm definitely going to be reading the rest of this series! I can't wait to find out how Gemma deals with all this and how it all turns out.
Thanks to Misty of Misty's Book Mess for reviewing this book. Great review!