Kristy Buzbee's Reviews > A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
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's review
Mar 04, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in June, 2008

I don't read much gothic literature, but this one is gold. It's set in the Victorian age and most of it takes place in England, but it starts off in India (when the Brits were still running things there). Gemma is a sixteen-year-old British girl living in India with her parents. When tragedy strikes and her mother dies, she's shipped off to England to a boarding school with explicit instructions to tell anyone who asks that her mother died of cholera. HINT: She didn't. :o

Gemma blames herself for her mother's death, and is haunted by a strange vision she had at the time - from blocks away, she went into a trance and witnessed what happened. But now that she's at Spence Academy, she thinks her only worry now is going to be fitting in and getting through her classes. WRONG! She's been followed to England by a young man from India, who tells her to close her mind to the visions. And this isn't a nice guy, "You shouldn't do that because supernatural stuff is dangerous" - this is cryptic notes left in her bed with daggers, abductions on the street to issue another warning, and creeping around the forest, always watching. Hence why I couldn't tell after 300 pages whether he's good or bad. He says he's from a group called the Rakshana, dedicated to keeping the shadowy powers of a group of women called the Order from coming back into the world. Gemma is left on her own to decide whether the Rakshana or the Order are right; or are they both bad?

But there's even more to this story. It's set in the Victorian age, when the only purpose for girls is to be groomed and trained to become demure wives for rich men. Gemma finds a group of friends, each of them victims of their gender in different ways. It's not that they aren't allowed to do what they want; it's that they aren't allowed to want at all. But what happens when girls who have been oppressed like this all their lives find a gateway to unimaginable power? Will it help them gain the lives they want? or is the Rakshana right, that power is best left untapped?
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