A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “It’s 1895 and after the death of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an unexpected habit of coming true, Gemma finds her reception a chilly one. She’s not completely alone though…she’s being followed by a myserious young man, sent to warn her to close her mind against the visions. It’s at Spence that Gemma’s power to attract the supernatural unfolds, as she becomes entangled with the school’s most powerful girls and discovers her mother’s connection to a shadowy, timeless group called The Order. Her destiny awaits…if only Gemma can believe in it.”

REVIEW: I first read this book (and it’s sequels, which altogether are known as the Gemma Doyle Trilogy) when I was about fourteen, and although this is the first time I have re-read them since then this trilogy remains one of my all-time favourites. The novel begins by introducing us to Gemma, the protagonist of the books, who has a fractious relationship with her mother as she chafes to leave their home in India and enjoy a socialite’s season in London. With her mother’s murder, however, by a terrifying and mysterious figure, Gemma’s whole world is completely changed, and when she finally reaches England it is nowhere near the paradise she hoped for. Now motherless, Gemma is sent to Spence, a boarding and etiquette school, at the urging of her grandmother, father and brother. Gemma finds herself isolated and alone, and drawn deeply in by both the visions she experiences and by Kartik, a stranger who offers his help and urges her to resist the visions. When Gemma discovers a strange diary, however, events take an even darker turn as she begins to learn about The Order, a group of women who can open a door to a magical world known as the Realms. With the help of her new friends and allies, the poor and insecure Anne, the confident and compelling Felicity and the spoilt Pippa, who is betrothed to a much older man against her will, Gemma finds that she too can enter the Realms and visit her mother, who is herself a member of The Order; it is her destiny to lead The Order, but this knowledge is something she struggles with. The four friends begin their hunt for Circe, the murderess of Gemma’s mother, and as their desire for power grows stronger, they become divided over how to deal with the magic possessed by Gemma and by the Realms themselves. As I said, I have always adored this series; it is gripping and fascinating, full of mysteries and surprises, and brilliantly illustrates how fine the line between light and dark can be. Gemma is instantly likeable and often relatable; and even if Gemma is not relatable to the reader, readers are surely to find some aspect of themselves in her friends Ann, Felicity and Pippa (the first time I read this series I felt a much stronger identification with Ann, and in some aspects I still do), which adds a depth to the book and also makes it easier for us to imagine ourselves into the novel. I am enjoying this series just as much as I did the first time around, which I feel proves its worth as an amazing and compelling trilogy; I would highly recommend it.

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