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A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)

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3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  157,767 ratings  ·  7,554 reviews
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

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Hardcover, 403 pages
Published December 9th 2003 by Simon and Schuster (first published January 1st 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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honestly mem
A Great and Terrible Beauty is neither great nor beautiful, though it is indeed -- wait for it! -- terrible.

The characters are simple and one-dimensional, their actions both petty and selfish. I find it difficult to believe any one of the four girls at the heart of the story cared for one another, much less anyone else. The story meanders, often digressing into lengthy passages that do little if anything to advance the characters or the story. As the story progresses, drawing to its predictable
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Jennie
Jun 01, 2015 Jennie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teenage chicks; adult women who like escapist fare
This book is what it is: a young adult novel.

That said, it's a very good one. You can read the summary on the book's page, so I won't go into that here.

I loved the juxtaposition of Victorian England, colonial India, and the fairy world. The protagonist doesn't belong in any of them, and she recognizes that, which sets up the whole story: the outsider tries to find her niche.

I didn't care for any of the other main characters, mostly because I felt that the protagonist, Gemma, was treading on thin
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Joyzi

Shall I tell you a story?
A new and terrible one?
A ghost story?
Are you ready?
Shall I begin?

Once upon a time there were four girls.

MP - Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu Pictures, Images and Photos
One was pretty.

MP - Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu Pictures, Images and Photos
One was clever.

WTF Pictures, Images and Photos
One charming, and one…

Haruhi and geass Pictures, Images and Photos
One was mysterious.

But they were all damaged, you see.
Something not right about the lot of them.
Bad blood.
Big dreams.
Oh, I left that part out.
Sorry, that should have come before.
They were all dreamers, these girls.

One by one, night after night,the girls came together.
And they sinned.
Do you know what that s
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Emily May


I don't know why for so long I just assumed I wouldn't like historical fiction, it's not as if I don't love history - I picked it for one of my A levels in college. But, I guess it's just one of those genres that sounds tedious and you imagine it to be all oppressed sexuality and prim and properness. Diana Gabaldon forever changed my mind with her oversexed and aggressive depiction of history and it was only a matter of time before I looked towards other works of historical fiction.

This book is
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Whitney Atkinson
3.75 stars

I went into this book knowing nothing about it except that it possibly had something to do with witches (which in the end was incorrect). I love that this is both historical and has magical elements, especially set at a boarding school, because the aesthetic and the setting of the book was really neat. I also love that despite the time, Gemma is a feminist and has a lot of confidence. However, I had more problems with this book than I have praise. I felt like Gemma was very gullible an
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Megan
Mysterious Sexy Boy: “So Gemma, isn’t it exciting to be attending your first Grateful Dead concert?”

Gemma Doyle: “Yes, but… Jerry Garcia has been actually dead for years..”

MSB: “Not for the purpose of this review, he isn’t. Just go with it”

GD: *sniff* *sniff* “Hmmm… what’s that smell?” *giggle* “And why am I suddenly craving pizza with chocolate??” *giggle*

MSB: “Son of a bitch! Gemma, that is second hand marijuana smoke. If you inhale enough you will get super duper high and will enjoy this conc
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Kirsty
Aug 10, 2008 Kirsty rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kirsty by: Emma
I picked this up after a friend kept talking about it in a GR group I belong to.

I'm really glad I did pick it up. I was sucked into the book from page 1. The author definitely has a way with words... She painted such a vivid image of the surroundings that I felt as though I was there with the characters in the book.

The plot moves very well, and there were a number of 'cliffhangers' which kept me turning the pages. There was a nice mixture of fantasy and realism, that made for a great read.

I lik
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Lauren DeStefano
The truth is that I could have devoured this delicious and inviting book in a day. Instead, I did all I could to make it last, reading an hour's worth at a time and then spending the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about these wonderful characters and what they had gone through, and what could possibly be in store for them next.

Gemma Doyle, with profound assertiveness, wit, and poetry, invited me into her world, and did this so vividly that upon setting the book down I would be startled by the
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Cristin
Jul 20, 2008 Cristin rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: young adult fans
Had I read Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty when I was 12-14 years old, this probably would have been close to a favorite of mine. There’s something about the way it is written (Bray’s exploration of insecurity, the quest of finding oneself, budding sexuality and subsequent doubt, yearning and curiosity, conflicts with family, struggling with authority, self-image, etc) that is absolutely perfect for Bray’s young adult audience. Please keep the genre in mind while you read--perhaps then ...more
Rick Riordan
Okay, so I was a little slow discovering this, but since Rebel Angels just came out, I figured I would read the first in the series first. The novel can best be described as Gothic fantasy. Lots of Victorian atmosphere and ruminations about the claustrophobic restrictions on women in that time period, combined with a good portion of magic and mystery. I loved Bray's sense of humor. It saved the novel from becoming top-heavy or melodramatic. The ending didn't quite work as well for me as the rest ...more
Maura
This is a young adult book, so I tried really hard to take that into consideration when judging it, but there are so many other, well-done kid/teen books out there that I feel OK about occasionally trashing one.

It basically follows the same overdone storyline we've all seen way too many times: boarding school kids whose parents don't want them discover they have magical powers, and they go through the whole 'magic for good versus magic for evil' struggle. This one didn't work because there was n
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Marissa
I am not someone who can watch scary movies. Now, I like scary movies (not full of blood, but full of suspense) but I have a problem in that I don't stop being scared when they're over (Lady in White, What Lies Beneath). My dad is a big Dean Koontz fan and so I read a book when I was younger. It was so scary--the walls even attacked people! I couldn't walk down our narrow hallway without feeling scared. Irrational? Absolutely. Why am I mentioning this? Well, because this book had a touch of the ...more
Nikki
I got most of the way through this, and then found that I just didn't care. I didn't care about the characters, the plot moved in fits and starts, the romance/tension/whatever it was supposed to be, with Kartik, just felt pasted on... In conclusion, I basically ran out of give-a-damn.

The writing is competent, in that it's all easy enough to read and understand, but given that the main character's voice wasn't convincing, even though she's the narrator, and the pacing felt jerky, the characters u
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Amanda
I swiped this out of the classroom one day because I had lunch duty and my choices were A) stare at the perpetual hacky sack game for 30 minutes or B) read something. As you can see, I didn't have much of a choice at all (it was one of those Eddie Izzard "Cake or death?" scenarios). When I began the book, I was immediately hooked--exotic locale, spirited protagonist, hint of the supernatural. However, it was a case of infatuation-at-first-sight that burned out rather quickly. After finishing the ...more
Sparrow
This book is exceptionally okay. It is like really, really, really, really okay. I think it would be more good and not so much okay if it started out less good in the beginning. As it is, I felt like it had a lot of promise it didn’t live up to. But, it didn’t exactly waste my time, either, so I can’t really say I disliked it or anything. It is just SUPER mediocre. Almost good, it’s so mediocre. Even, throughout, I would think things were going somewhere, but instead things would kind of stay th ...more
Jenny
Jul 22, 2008 Jenny rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone, except maybe little kids.
Recommended to Jenny by: Nobody
I love this book. I love the entire series. I found them first in seventh grade, but the third one hadn't come out yet. I was scanning my middle school library's shelves, when I noticed an interesting cover near one of my favorite book series. I read the back and I thought the plot was interesting. So I decided to give it a chance and read it. I thought they were great. I mean, I really didn't consider them as some of my favorite books. Eventually, I went on with my life and sort of forgot about ...more
Jane
Ugh, this is the worst book I have read recently. Maybe it's due to the expectation I have from reading the reviews here and the pretty, pretty covers (including Rebel Angels). I really, really wanted to like this.

For one, the characterization and language were too modern that it hardly seem believable (and I had been on a steady diet of Patrick O'Brian). The narrative writing was awkward and stilted, the characters were one-dimensional, and the plot build-up was too slow. After 1/3 of the book
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Mizuki
Pre-review: I want to read this book because I'd heard good things about it, but after reading this review, I'm not sure anymore.

Note: I read the Chinese translation of this book, and I'm not sure whether the translator had mistakenly make the Main Character (a young lady from the 1890s Victorian era) sound like an air-headed modern teenager, or was it Libba Bray's own fault for giving her own MC such kind of misplaced voice.

Actual review here:

I give this book a Nothing Special 1.5 stars

Well...
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Tatiana
Nov 15, 2009 Tatiana rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of Victorian boarding school setting
Shelves: ya, 2009, ala-ya-2004
Update: Third book sucks!

It appears that this book tends to polarize its readers. There are as many haters of it as there are lovers. I am one of those who happens to really like it. I am a big fan of Victorian literature as well as the boarding school setting; and it was a pleasure for me to delve into a world of this Jane Eyre-ish teen drama.

There were many things that I found enchanting about this book. First of all, I have to give Bray a special credit for choosing a rather original setting
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Emily
Oct 25, 2008 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: life-long readers of Burnett, fans of The Craft, Dead Poet's Society or anything along those lines
Recommended to Emily by: good question
This is what I do when I'm stressed: find something that I would have read as a tween, devour, feel better, shop for more books. It's held me in good stead since, well, I was a tween.

Picture a Victorian finishing school . . . like out of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess. Imagine that the school has forbidden areas closed off after a tragedy like in The Secret Garden. (I'm completely blanking on the plot for Little Lord Fauntleroy and never read Burnett's adult fiction, so her other w
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Laura
Is it fair to say I hate a book if I didn't even finish it? My high school English teacher would say No. But I don't care. I hated this book. It was painful for me to read. I didn't like the story or the characters. I agonized over each word that was written. For nearly 6 weeks I tried to make myself sit down and read it. When there was a choice between scrubbing my toilet and reading this book, I chose the toilet!

I know there will be some who will throw me into the streets and cast stones at me
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Beth F.
I’ve had bad luck with highly touted YA lately (barfs on Twilight) but was unable to resist this one, probably on account of the cover because corsets and old-fashioned undies fascinate me (even my wedding dress had a corset back). And after the first chapter, I wanted to strangle the main character, Gemma, for being the worst kind of whiny, teenage bitch out there, so I kept thinking, "Oh God, here we go again." I was ready to chalk this one up as another disappointment but then things changed ...more
K
It's telling when most of the popular goodreads reviews of this book, positive as well as negative, contain some sort of disclaimer about needing to cut this book slack because it's a YA book. But is a juvenile audience a legitimate excuse for juvenile writing?

The story is this: It's 1895, and 16-year-old Gemma Doyle's mother has just died a tragic and mysterious death in India. Gemma, as a result, is shipped off to an England boarding school where rich young ladies (and one scholarship student)
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Karla
This had all the makings of a smash-up between Gossip Girl and Charmed - in other words, something I'd be bored with 30 pages in - but Bray cranked out a fast-moving and just-deep-enough story with interesting characters to keep me glued to the page.

I loved Gemma Doyle. Loved loved loved her. She had her immature, whiny side lumped in with a bunch of mommy issues, but she had a brittle and sardonic exterior and snarky humor she wields like a whip, both verbally and in interior monologues. It's n
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Tracey
It was there, I was there, I picked it up and started reading it. And almost didn’t stop even when my eyelids were growing heavier and heavier in the wee hours. On the first page, I noted the use of present tense, flipped back a hundred pages or so (it’s a real book) and saw that it wasn’t just for that section, shrugged, and kept going. It fits. I could learn to really like the present tense, I guess; here it suits the narrative, a young woman’s thought processes as she navigates her completely ...more
rachelle
I'm furious. I kept reading, waiting for this thing to go somewhere, for something cool to happen. It didn't! Nothing worth anything happened here.

Stuff that inspired a lot of ALL CAPS emotion:

Cecily leaves the room. Four seconds later, she ASKS A QUESTION. From another room? Another realm? From a fired copy editor's back pocket? (pg 194 and 197)

Gypsy boy warns girl to "knock that off or else."
Gypsy boy warns girl to "knock that off or else."
Gypsy boy warns girl to "knock that off or else."

Gyps
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Giselle at Book Nerd Canada
Whoa, I read this in one sitting. There was just something about the mystery behind Mary and Sarah that had me flipping the pages. I love the boarding school setting and the realms and the magic that was involved. But most of it didn't keep to the plot, and even though it was mostly build-up to the end, I found it to be rather enjoyable.

Libby's writing is very descriptive and tedious, and if you don't like that, then you'll have problems reading this.

The characters are all so on point, they're
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Juhina
Feb 24, 2015 Juhina rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: own
It gets 2 stars because I reserve the 1 star rating to books I seriously hate. This was a vey boring book and I just wasn't interested in it from beginning to end. Safe to say I won't be continuing with the series.
♔ Leah.
This is one of those books I'd like to call the "Koh-i-noor-of-Young-Adult", because after delving through cow shit of current YA books— there is always one that does restore hope inside me despite the Mary Sue heroines, bland/abusive love interests, lack of plot and lack of research when it comes to historical eras in which the book is set in(yes, I'm looking at you Cassandra Clare!)

*spoilers ahead*

The story follows the story of Gemma Doyle, a girl who has been brought up in 19th Century Briti
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Kristi
Gemma isn’t your typical sixteen year old. Most girls her age have been brought up in London’s society of gossip and lavish balls, but not Gemma. She has had a most unconventional upbringing in India. Yet she yearns to be in London, and the topic is often the start of arguments between her and her mother.

Gemma’s wish becomes a reality when she has a vision of her mother’s death which comes true, and she is sent back to London and enrolled at Spence, an academy for girls. Gemma is uncertain of he
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2015 Reading Chal...: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray 1 13 Apr 26, 2015 09:18PM  
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2526
What is it about writing an author bio that gives me that deer-in-headlights feeling? It's not exactly like I'm going to say "I was born in Alabama…" and somebody's going to jump up and snarl, "Oh yeah? Prove it!" At least I hope not.

I think what gets me feeling itchy is all that emphasis on the facts of a life, while all the juicy, relevant, human oddity stuff gets left on the cutting room floor.
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More about Libba Bray...

Other Books in the Series

Gemma Doyle (3 books)
  • Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle, #2)
  • The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle, #3)
Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle, #2) The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle, #3) The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) Beauty Queens Going Bovine

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“Shall I tell you a story? A new and terrible one? A ghost story? Are you ready? Shall I begin? Once upon a time there were four girls. One was pretty. One was clever. One charming, and one...one was mysterious. But they were all damaged, you see. Something not right about the lot of them. Bad blood. Big dreams. Oh, I left that part out. Sorry, that should have come before. They were all dreamers, these girls. One by one, night after night, the girls came together. And they sinned. Do you know what that sin was? No one? Pippa? Ann? Their sin was that they believed. Believed they could be different. Special. They believed they could change what they were--damaged, unloved. Cast-off things. They would be alive, adored, needed. Necessary. But it wasn't true. This is a ghost story remember? A tragedy. They were misled. Betrayed by their own stupid hopes. Things couldn't be different for them, because they weren't special after all. So life took them, led them, and they went along, you see? They faded before their own eyes, till they were nothing more than living ghosts, haunting each other with what could be. With what can't be. There, now. Isn't that the scariest story you've ever heard?” 686 likes
“There are no safe choices. Only other choices.” 663 likes
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