Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult | Paranormal
Summary: 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.
Final Rating: ♥♥♥ / ♥♥♥♥♥
I really wanted to pick this book up, because I was very, very impressed with Libba Bray’s The Diviners. I was slightlydisappointed. The writing was fantastic, and the premise of the book was interesting, but the characters fell short, the world wasn’t built as well as I had hoped it would be, and the book was much longer than it needed to be. Not a bad book per se, but it was very meh.
Like I said, the premise of the book was very interesting. I do like paranormal, fantasy worlds that co-exist with the real world in secrecy. I find it very interesting as to how this secret is kept, but I’m often disappointed by how little attention is paid to this. Similarly, I felt like the world and the characters’ interactions with the world fell flat. Most of the time, the story was slow and mundane, and I was trying to get through it quickly. I will say that things sped up tremendously towards the end of the novel, but still not enough to redeem it.
Also, the novel is set in Victorian England but the language and dialogue felt nothing like it. Libba Bray builds an elaborate surrounding, and it shatters as soon as the characters open their mouths.
I did not enjoy the characters, save one or two. I enjoyed Kartik’s character, because I’m a fan of the mysterious, intriguing, brooding male types (call me a cliché, but it’s my review, deal with it). I was disappointed that not a lot of attention was paid to him as a character. I’m tired of novels focusing on a male character as a sole outlet for the female protagonist’s sexual frustrations, because I feel like there’s a lot more that can be said about Kartik. If I decide to read the second book, it will solely be because of him and Ms. Moore. I thought her character was intriguing, and it sparked my curiosity.
Besides these two, I disliked all the others. I felt like the main four characters were pretentious, unlikable, snooty and clichéd. I hated Ana, because she was selfish and materialistic. I hated Pippa because she was stupid and mundane. I hated Felicity because she was power-hungry and a Victorian version of Regina freaking George. And I disliked Gemma because she was vapid and inconsiderate. UGH. So much potential, thrown down the drain.
Again, I’m a big fan of Libba Bray’s writing. I feel like she’s creative and imaginative, that she has fantastic descriptive skills, and her ability to insert horror and mystery in her novels is commendable. But the transparency in the Victorian era setting irked me, and I felt like Libba Bray could have done a lot better in that department.
Would I recommend? No.
Would I re-read? No.