Megan Hicks's Reviews > A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
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Nov 05, 11

bookshelves: young-adult, fantasy, historical, read-in-2011
Read in November, 2011

I intended to read A Great and Terrible Beauty years ago, when it was first released, my friends raved about it, and I was actually part of its target audience (ie, a teenage girl). I'm just now getting around to it, and I was glad to see that my expectations were not let down, and I found A Great and Terrible Beauty to be a lovely book.

Doyle really understands the psyche of the teenage girl. Her characters are sometimes selfish, foolish, and mean, but they ultimately have good hearts. It was really great to read a book in which the characters make petty mistakes, not just big, life-changing ones. Scenes in which the girls at Spence were cruel to each other were particularly refreshing, as their behavior stemmed not from reasonless, Mean Girls cattiness, but real conflicts that go on between young women, conflicts about class, status, and jealousy. I found each of the girls likable in their own way, as well as the side characters.

The plot is a page turner with just enough space to breath. The Victorian setting is used to its full advantage. All in all, A Great and Terrible Beauty has a lot to recommend it.

However, if I had one complaint, it would be about the mythology of the book. I didn't find it as compelling as the other elements of the story. The sources of magic and how it's performed feels a little bit muddled, as though Bray wasn't completely sure what kind of a system she wanted to set up. I hope that the sequel will clarify things and fix that problem. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend it.
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