Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Pages: 403
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Library
Interest: Time period, recommendations

It’s 1895, and after the suicide 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 uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?


Usually, when I start to read a book, I find that it is vastly different from the summary on the back. With a Great and Terrible Beauty however, there was no false advertising – I got exactly what I expected.

There is a lot that can be discussed about this book as a lot of topics were covered but I’m just going to highlight a few points that stood out to me.

I’m going to have to start off by gushing about the time period. I love reading books set anywhere from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, especially those that truly highlight the time period. I love the dresses, the formal manner of speech, the architecture … you get the idea. This book is a modern take on the Victorian era and it really worked. I was provided with plenty details about the era, while still being to connect with the characters. I really appreciated every description and was able to clearly visualize Gemma’s surroundings.

The second setting of the book, the realms, is a bit more complex. The realms are almost a world between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Depending on how they are used, they can be tipped towards good or evil. I enjoyed this concept a lot, because in most books, secret lands are just lands, not a tool that can be wielded by those who have power.

Gemma is a great narrator for the story. She is snarky, funny, sensitive and smart. She provides a really interesting perspective on serious topics like death, bullying, arranged marriage and dark magic.

The minor characters are not, for the most part, one-dimensional but in fact are almost as complex as Gemma is. At the start, Felicity and Pippa appear to be petty airheads but their lives aren’t really as perfect as they seem. Both have issues with their families and want to change the paths their lives are on.  I feel like Ann’s characters could have been developed more. Not a lot of information is given about her backstory or her interests in life, other than wanting popularity.  Kartik is dark and mysterious and I look forward to reading more about him in the next two books.

There was romance in this book, but it was not the main focus of the story. It is more in the sense of the girls worrying about their future husbands, with a few forbidden relationships on the side. The girls are gradually exploring what it means to love and be loved and this was a very relateable topic.

The pacing was rather slow and at points I felt that I was trudging through the pages. But mostly, it was not a bad thing. After reading many fast – paced books, I enjoyed reading one that didn’t go by so quickly.

The ending was pretty dark and twisty and as questions got answered, more got created. I will definitely be continuing with the trilogy.


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