Teresa Medeiros's Reviews > A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
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Feb 12, 2012

it was amazing

Do you ever feel as if you were destined to read a certain book? I originally spotted Libba Bray's first book A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY on the "New in Hardcover" shelf at my local Borders. I immediately thought, "What a gorgeous romance cover!" I thumbed through the book only to discover that it wasn't a romance at all but a Victorian historical set at an English girl's boarding school. Although I was intrigued, I put the book back on the shelf.

Then at the Dallas RWA conference a few weeks later, I was signing books with fellow Avon author Cathy Maxwell when she started telling me about this amazing YA (Young Adult) book she'd just read. "You have to read it," she told me. "It's like Harry Potter for girls!" Swayed by her enthusiasm, I followed her to the YA section of the bookstore only to discover she was talking about the very book I'd spotted at Borders. I had no idea it was even being marketed as Young Adult fiction!

Not one to resist the seductive kiss of fate twice, I came home with a shiny new hardcover in my suitcase. And boy am I glad I did! A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is a wonderful balm for the soul of the reader who is always lamenting, "There's nothing fresh out there to read!" It's a deliciously dark Gothic Victorian historical paranormal with a tasty sprinkling of romance. Think of it as THE SECRET GARDEN and A LITTLE PRINCESS on acid.

The book opens in India in 1895 when 16-year-old Gemma Doyle witnesses the tragic and mysterious death of her mother. Her opium-addicted father quickly packs her off to Spence, one of those oh-so-proper British boarding schools that are secretly seething with all of the passion, drama and intrigue that only adolescent girls can create. The headstrong Gemma is quickly befriended by shy, impoverished Ann, ambitious Felicity, and beautiful Pippa, whose desire for a handsome prince to spirit her away risks leading them all to disaster. Gemma also discovers that she is the sole key to opening a magical alternate universe called "The Realms" and that her fate is inextricably entwined with her mother's. The only thing the book lacks is a handsome, sexy, mysterious Gypsy lad who could turn out to be either Gemma's protector or her mortal enemy. Oh, wait—the book has that too!

I'm delighted to report that the second book and third books in the series, REBEL ANGELS and THE SWEET FAR THING are just as good if not even better than the first book. In ANGELS, Bray moves the action to the city for the Christmas holiday. Her writing is gorgeous and crisp and she brings Victorian London to such vivid life that I could almost smell the soot in the air and feel the warm glow of the gaslights on my skin.

I read somewhere that the corset on the cover of the first book was meant to symbolize the repression of women and young girls in the Victorian Era. Gemma is a very strong character—smart, headstrong, passionate—and you sense that her adventures, however fantastical and dangerous, may eventually lead her to the intellectual and spiritual freedom that all women crave.

If you've ever wondered how the world would be different if J.K. Rowling had penned HARRIET POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, I definitely recommend these books. I would have loved them when I was fourteen and I love them now! Since A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY hit the New York Times bestseller list--an amazing feat for a first novel--I must not be the only one. The books are written in first person and present tense, which only adds to the immediacy of the story. Ms. Bray is planning one more book in this series.

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