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Gemma Doyle #1

A Great and Terrible Beauty

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In this debut gothic novel mysterious visions, dark family secrets and a long-lost diary thrust Gemma and her classmates back into the horrors that followed her from India. (Ages 12+)

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?

403 pages, Hardcover

First published December 9, 2003

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About the author

Libba Bray

46 books15k followers
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. I could tell you the facts–I lived in Texas for most of my life; I live in New York City with my husband and six-year-old son now; I have freckles and a lopsided smile; I'm allergic to penicillin.

But that doesn't really give you much insight into me. That doesn't tell you that I stuck a bead up my nose while watching TV when I was four and thought I'd have to go to the ER and have it cut out. Or that I once sang a punk version of "Que Sera Sera" onstage in New York City. Or that I made everyone call me "Bert" in ninth grade for no reason that I can think of. See what I mean?

God is in the details. So with that in mind, here is my bio. Sort of.


1. I lived in Texas until I was 26 years old, then I moved to New York City with $600.00 in my shoe ('cause muggers won't take it out of your shoe, y'know . . . riiiiight . . .) and a punchbowl (my grandmother's gift) under my arm. I ended up using the punchbowl box as an end table for two years.

2. My dad was a Presbyterian minister. Yes, I am one of those dreaded P.K.s–Preacher's Kids. Be afraid. Be very afraid . . .

3. The first story I ever wrote, in Mrs. McBee's 6th grade English class, was about a girl whose family is kidnapped and held hostage by a murderous lot of bank robbers who intend to kill the whole family–including the dog–until the 12-year-old heroine foils the plot and saves the day. It included colored pencil illustrations of manly-looking, bearded criminals smoking, and, oblivious to the fact that The Beatles had already sort of laid claim to the title, I called my novel, HELP. My mom still has a copy. And when I do something she doesn't like, she threatens to find it.

4. My favorite word is "redemption." I like both its meaning and the sound. My least favorite word is "maybe." "Maybe" is almost always a "no" drawn out in cruel fashion.

5. My three worst habits are overeating, self-doubt, and the frequent use of the "f" word.

6. The three things I like best about myself are my sense of humor, my ability to listen, and my imagination.

7. I have an artificial left eye. I lost my real eye in a car accident when I was eighteen. In fact, I had to have my entire face rebuilt because I smashed it up pretty good. It took six years and thirteen surgeries. However, I did have the pleasure of freezing a plastic eyeball in an ice cube, putting it in a friend's drink, ("Eyeball in your highball?") and watching him freak completely. Okay, so maybe that's not going down on my good karma record. But it sure was fun.

8. In 7th grade, my three best friends and I dressed up as KISS and walked around our neighborhood on Halloween. Man, we were such dorks.

9. I once spent New Year's Eve in a wetsuit. I'd gone to the party in a black dress that was a little too tight (too many holiday cookies) and when I went to sit down, the dress ripped up the back completely. Can we all say, mortified? The problem was, my friends were moving out of their house–everything was packed and on a truck–and there was nothing I could put on . . . but a wetsuit that they still had tacked to the wall. I spent the rest of the party maneuvering through throngs of people feeling like a giant squid.

10. I got married in Florence, Italy. My husband and I were in love but totally broke, so we eloped and got married in Italy, where he was going on a business trip. We had to pull a guy off the street to be our witness. It was incredibly romantic.

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5 stars
70,847 (32%)
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3 stars
52,416 (23%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,382 reviews
Profile Image for honestly mem.
94 reviews56 followers
October 16, 2007
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 and dissatisfying conclusion, it becomes clear that Ms Bray has mistaken style for subtance and that her prose is not stylish enough to support this belief.

Most offensive, however, is the racial and sexual content within the book. The male lead (a young man from India) is sexualized and fetishized for his "exotic" appearance and culture; other Indian characters are shown as either submissive or violent. The Romani people wandering the schoolgrounds suffer from even greater stereotyping: the men are portrayed as slovenly, ignorant, and sexually aggressive towards the white schoolgirls; the women are docile and suitably mystical.

Her treatment of the female characters is also questionable. Though these Victorian girls wander about with decidedly un-Victorian sensibilities and though Ms Bray makes a weak attempt to decry the injustices of a society so quick to condemn the expression of feminine sexuality, the story itself does not support this modern take on the Victorian era. The girls submit to their male counterparts or pine helplessly from a distance. Sexual and romantic relationships between men and women often contain obvious and disturbing power imbalances (or violent undertones). The relationship between the four girls is emotionally shallow and deeply petty, motivated by mutual dislike and composed of backstabbing and bullying tactics. And though Ms Bray is quick to condemn the indignities and horrors of an arranged marriage, she is also quick to condemn her protagonists when they dare to act instead of react. It's a confusing mix of self-righteous pulpit pounding and misogyny, with the end result being I wanted to put my fist through the admittedly lovely and eyecatching cover.

My one relief is that I had the sense to borrow this from the library instead of buying it outright. I do not recommend it.
Profile Image for Jennie.
323 reviews72 followers
June 1, 2015
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 ice by being friends with them. I liked Gemma - I've read reviews that said she was selfish, angry, and petty, and she can be - but what sixteen-year-old isn't? The friendship between Gemma and the other three girls is based on a desire for freedom as well as the tenuous sharing of secrets - I don't think the girls were ever meant to appear as the best of friends, even on a good day, so the reviews that criticize the friendship being shallow puzzle me. (I mean...well, yeah, right?)

I thought the story flowed really well and had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing - it's also a really quick read and I was sorry when it ended as soon as it did. The visits to the fairy realm were really a delight to read - pure escapism for the characters as well as the reader. And not without a dark edge.

Finally, it was a little racy, which I thought was pretty awesome for a YA novel. It's hard to write a teenage sexual awakening while so much other stuff is going on, especially without being sordid, cheesy, or flowery. Bray does this really well - and the male love interest is your typical aloof, charming, vaguely dangerous, devastatingly hot, man-of-few-words character. I can hear the swoons of teenage girls everywhere. Hell, even I sighed once or twice.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next two books in this series.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 501 books402k followers
November 8, 2013
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 of the book, but perhaps I was simply reading too fast by that point. I would recommend it to teen girls, say 13+. Be aware, there was a definite erotic edge to the book. No more so than Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but it's worth mentioning.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
March 30, 2012

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 both everything I expected and also everything I didn't expect. It's set for the most part in a boarding school for educating girls in the art of being 'ladies', or in other words: wives. The girls were expected to be reserved, polite and, most importantly, beautiful. This I was prepared for. I was also prepared for the customs, superstitions and blatant sexism of the times. However, it never occurred to me that this novel would be simply a 19th century take on a modern school. There's gossiping, bitchiness and bullying of those who are different (in this case, from a lower class).

It's a good dose of chick lit as well as a historical book. And that's before we've even gotten to the whole magic/fantasy aspect. This novel completely transcends genres and does it well. I didn't see the whole other-realm mysticality thing coming but I loved it. The gypsies are awesome as well, we have crazy gypsies, fake fortune-telling I-speak-with-dead-people gypsies, sexy gypsies (don't believe the rumours, 19th century girls didn't just lie back and think of England). And that's another thing I liked: the exploration of the girls' sexualities behind closed doors. It may not be the most reliable source, the book was written in modern times, but it's easy to imagine that beneath the surface of Victorian society's repressed sexuality, girls probably did talk about 'having' thousands of men: Earls, Dukes, Barons, Princes... Anyway, lost myself on a smutty tangent. I was saying that I liked the idea of weaving fantasy into history, I'm all for spicing up times gone by.

I didn't give it 5 stars because it wasn't quite up there with my other 5 star rated books. I liked it, I loved the many different elements that made the novel hard to categorise and I liked the characters. I always like it when things aren't just as simple as "she's a bitch" and "she's a freak" in any kind of genre. I liked how, even though Gemma lost her mother at the beginning, the relationship was still built up throughout. I liked that the protagonist wasn't a pushover, even more so because the novel setting was in a very sexist society. And I love anything with dreams and/or visions.

Profile Image for Joyzi.
340 reviews423 followers
December 25, 2010

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 sin was?


Their sin was that they believed.
Believed they could be different.
They believed they could change what they were—damaged, unloved.
Cast-off things.
They would be alive, adored,needed.
But it wasn't true.
This is a ghost story, remember?
A tragedy.

And kyon... Pictures, Images and Photos

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.
What can't be.
There, now.
Isn't that the scariest story you've ever heard?
Profile Image for Bonnie Shores.
Author 1 book369 followers
December 29, 2018
According to the author, this is a story about an English girl named Gemma who sees things. A girl with a dead mother, a lot of guilt, strange friends and a mysterious destiny. To me, it was a story about a strong-willed teen who felt alone in the world. I specifically used the word "teen" to denote a person whose life inexperience causes her to make impulsive decisions—not all bad, mind you—but implusive nonetheless.

The story is set in Victorian-era England, a period in time where a girl's greatest hope was (supposed to be) to marry well (read money). Well-born girls were trained to smile and be proper no matter what and, eventually, "lie back and think of England".

"They were mislead. 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, what can't be."


So, while this is a story that is centered around Gemma finding a diary that reveals the secrets of the mystical "Order", I found it to be more character driven. And I mean that in the best way. I loved getting to know Gemma, Felicity, Pippa and Ann and seeing their friendship change and grow when, through a magical realm, they were able to experience the desires of their hearts.


"They see her differently now. As somebody. And isn't that what everyone wants? To be seen?"

"What if I am damaged?" "We're all damaged somehow."

"You can never really know someone completely. That's why it's the most terrifying thing in the world, really, taking someone on faith, hoping they'll take you on faith, too. It's such a precarious balance. It's a wonder we do it at all. And yet..."

"I've heard it said that God is in the details. It's the same with the truth. Leave out the details, the crucial heart, and you can damn someone with the bare bones of it."

"But forgiveness... I'll hold on to that fragile slice of hope and keep it close, remembering that in each of us there lies good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We're each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real. We've got to forgive ourselves that."

"In every end there is also a beginning."

And with that, I look forward to reading Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing. Thank you, Libba Bray.

Profile Image for Drew.
449 reviews504 followers
December 14, 2016
“Don’t you ever speak to me that way again,” I snarl. “I am no longer content to be the scared, obedient schoolgirl. Who are you, a stranger, to tell me what I can and cannot do?”

Wow, this was such a pleasant surprise. If you don't know, The Diviners by Libba Bray is one of my favorite books ever. So you can imagine I had my doubts that a book written many years earlier by the author would live up to it.

But A Great and Terrible Beauty was just so good. I shouldn't have doubted Ms. Bray. It had so many great things going for it, with the Victorian setting, mysterious death of the main character's mother, supernatural elements, and rebellious, lovable narrator, Gemma Doyle.

Seriously, this book was too much fun, while also taking a look at more serious historical facts, such as how many young girls were bred to be the wives of rich men during this time - even if the men were thirty years older. Gemma was a fantastic narrator; she grew up in India until her mother's sudden death forced her to come to England and attend a young ladies' boarding school.

At Spence Academy Gemma befriends three girls and they start their own secret club, but when Gemma finds out she possess supernatural powers from her mother, it changes everything.

The writing was wonderful; the friendships between the well-developed characters Gemma, Felicity, Pippa, and Ann were hilarious and sometimes vicious in the way that teenage girls can be. They were expected to behave like proper ladies, but these wild girls were the complete opposite and were desperate to escape constricting corsets, French lessons, and everyone telling them what not to do.

I became so absorbed in this world - the Victorian era felt like something supernatural in itself, with the claustrophobic rules of Spence Academy. Gemma's mysterious family legacy, the strange boy who kept showing up in her bedroom, and the diary of a dead girl she discovered drove the plot until I felt like I was living in it. I just love when stories do that - when I become so invested in them they seem to come to life, and for a short while I'm a part of that world.

A gothic, Victorian paranormal that focused on a young woman during a time where she didn't seem to fit into the social rules. It was a fun, clever, and female empowering story.

“I think I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us.”
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
916 reviews13.9k followers
April 29, 2015
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 and foolish in her decision-making, something that made me shake my head the entire book. Additionally, I was having a hard time getting into this because for some reason I kept getting bored and picking up other things. I loved Libba Bray's writing style, though, so I can't wait to pick up her other books and maybe one day continue on with this series, but at this point I'm not sure.

(sorry to all my really good friends that love this book. :c)
Profile Image for Trina (Between Chapters).
858 reviews3,757 followers
April 29, 2016
Series review video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2qPN...

Update 3 months after reading: I'm lowering my rating from 3.5 to 2.5 stars. I've finished the series and in books 2 and 3 I saw a few things to be problematic. I don't know why I suddenly picked up on them, but in hindsight I realize that at least 2 things were present in the first book also: the constant fat shaming of Ann, and the element of self harm that is not approached in any significant or respectful way. As they were never fixed or redeemed in the series, I cannot respect that they were included in the first place.

Overall, I would give this series a 1 star rating. The plot was unenjoyable, and the characters ended up being extremely problematic.

Original review: Great girl power and unusual magic. Loved the characters, loved the lack of actual romance (some vivid kissy dreams though!). Although the plot meandered at times, this is only the start of a trilogy and I felt it was just laying the groundwork for bigger things to come. Gemma's discovery of this world had to start somewhere.
Profile Image for Jean Menzies.
Author 12 books11.1k followers
September 6, 2017
Review originally posted on my blog here: https://morejeansthoughts.wordpress.c...

This is the first book I have read by Libba Bray who is, in fact, quite the prolific author and incredibly popular amongst fans of Young Adult literature. My interest was peaked in Bray’s writing after reading an article she had written here for EW. Upon reading Bray’s article I immediately ordered both A Great and Terrible Beauty and Beauty Queens by the author. Seeing her discuss the influences and objectives of her young adult work made me see them in a much more complex light than perhaps the blurbs alone would have. Not only did my first foray into her work not disappoint, it far exceeded all of my expectations. A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first in her Gemma Doyle series and what a beginning it is.

The year is 1895 and our story follows Gemma Doyle, a young woman from a wealthy English family who has spent her entire life thus far growing up in India. After tragedy strikes, however, her life is uprooted and she is sent to board at a girls’ finishing school in England. Her life in England is far more than elocution lessons and keeping up with this season’s latest fashions; Miss Doyle is haunted by visions of another world, one both terrifying and beautiful.

This book melds together 19th century Britain, female friendships, sexual awakenings and magic. The story and characters are engaging and mysterious with so much more bubbling under the surface. There is so much I enjoyed about this first book in the series that it is difficult to condense my feelings for you in one blog post, but here I go.

For one, the characters are complex; each has their good and their bad qualities, their virtues and their vices. Those of Gemma’s fellow students who may initially seem like your cliche mean girls upon her arrival in England, gradually have their layers peeled back and their persons exposed. These are young women struggling with the confines of their time and station, dreaming of lives where they can make choices of their own rather than to suit the demands of their families and society.

The book embodies a sense of longing throughout; a longing to know oneself and a longing to belong, to be accepted whilst clambering to stand out. Not forgetting a carnal longing, which is far more unfamiliar to these once girls who find themselves becoming young women. To explore themselves truly, however, is made all the more difficult by the restrictive confines of their contemporary society where women’s roles are constructed in order to serve the male elite. In these circumstances who would not find the call of a magical order made up entirely of women seductive?

Bray’s book shines a light on the individuality of women in a time when they were allowed very little. She allows them freedom in this and other worlds to explore themselves and their desires. At the same time, they may want to tread cautiously whilst they discover their own boundaries and challenge those that have been imposed upon them.

Dare I describe this as the historical feminist fantasy novel that I never knew I always wanted? Bring on book two.

Profile Image for A.G. Howard.
Author 19 books8,705 followers
June 13, 2015
Why did I wait so long to read this? Such a great adventure! Strong, smart heroine with untapped magical potential. Loved the historical setting, too. Sign me up for the series! <3
Profile Image for Maura.
34 reviews27 followers
February 24, 2008
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 nothing new or imaginative about the story, and the whole book just felt... well, "flat" is the first word that comes to mind. The story was frustratingly predictable, the characters one-dimensional, and the writing drab.

I appreciate that the author was trying to encourage a bit of feminist thinking by showing how repressive the Victorian era was for young women, but I think the best way she could have had a positive influence on young readers would be by having a strong protagonist. Instead, the main character is just as annoyingly angsty and self-conscious as all the other angsty teenagers in the book.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
August 16, 2011
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 unsympathetic, etc, etc, I can't find myself recommending it. It wasn't completely terrible for me to read -- I didn't want to throw it across the room -- but honestly, I couldn't see where people get four and five star ratings for it from. I won't be reading anything else by Libba Bray any time soon.
Profile Image for Kirsty.
475 reviews74 followers
August 10, 2008
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 liked the main character, Gemma. She felt very real and I could relate to her more than I have done with main characters in other books. I liked the friendship she built with the other girls (especially Felicity), even though at first they didn't get on at all.

I liked how the character of Kartik was woven into the plot, and I felt that the author had a good understanding of the feelings that girls of Gemma's age felt - especially in the dream sequences.

A really great read, and I will definitely be picking up the other books in the trilogy.
Profile Image for Cristin.
105 reviews205 followers
July 21, 2008
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 you won't feel too disappointed. This book deserves a chance, I think. It does seem misguided at times, but it's not complete tripe. I appreciate what the author is (and often succeeded in) doing here. Try not to turn your nose up at it.

*I must make an important note here, digress and ask: has anyone else noticed that using the word “gingerly” is practically a prerequisite for young adult authors to consider themselves thus? Seriously, I could (and if I ever have the time, will) make a list of young adult lit that employ that infamous word! Nowhere else have I seen that adjective/adverb so frequently used. It’s certainly never used in common speech. I’m going to test it out–just to see whether or not people look at me as though I have three heads if I actually say something like: “I gingerly took the antique mirror from its place, high upon the wall.” Seriously, who says it? Do publishers force young adult authors to throw the word in for good measure? Is it an ingredient, like paprika, that the potato salad of young adult lit just wouldn’t be the same without? For Libba Bray’s sake, I must note that she used it only once, if I’m not mistaken...and it wasn’t poorly used, by any means...It just makes me smile every time I come across it.

Back to the book–It was well done, although there were portions of the book that seemed a bit forced.

Great & Terrible Beauty is set (during the first 30 pages in India) in turn-of-the-century England, at an all girls preparatory school. Gemma, the main character, has experienced a mysterious tragedy, and enters the school with a sense of foreboding that she cannot shake, or seem to share with anyone. After a very short time, the reader is introduced to what will become an unlikely group of friends, consisting of the archetypal cruel, power-hungry beauty (Felicity), the fickle follower (Pippa), the spirited upstart (Gemma) and the dowdy outcast (Ann).

Certain aspects of the book annoyed me. One of the subplots consisted of Ann’s injuring herself, by scratching at her wrists. While I’m certain women of all eras have harmed themselves in order to remind themselves that they “can still feel”, I couldn’t help but feel as though Bray was taking an idea from a more modern story (about the more modern phenomenon of cutting, for example) and trying to push it into this novel...The lasting effect resulted in the proverbial round peg, square hole dilemma. It didn’t seem too necessary to force that type of character development on Ann, and again, seemed glaring only because it took me out of the time period that was intended for the story.

There are certain scenes that seemed to have been a bit too familiar. The most predictable scenes, however, were often followed by something pleasantly unexpected (I must be vague here, as I despise spoilers).

I have to give Bray credit for writing such a solid story with a main character who is clearly immature and flawed, yet still strong and likeable. I also appreciate the fact that Bray managed to tell an entertaining story, while trying to instill (in her primarily female audience) ideas of feminine power–a celebration of independence, strength and individuality.

As the reader continues on Gemma's journey, the existence of magical realms and an ancient, mystical Order takes over the bulk of the plot. The magic of the realms teeters on the edge of becoming a metaphor for drug use; at times I thought the narration of the story would break, and the reader would be told that the “magic” was really heroine, or something like it. My guess is that Bray was trying to find a venue for the exploration of Power, and what potential harm it can do to a person who thirsts for it without any thought of the consequences.

If you’re looking for a slightly creepy, entertaining novel, you’ll enjoy A Great & Terrible Beauty. I want to read the sequel, Rebel Angels, which I consider a good sign.
Profile Image for Megan.
418 reviews385 followers
July 25, 2011
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 concert immensely. For the love of god, do not inhale it!!!

GD: “How do you expect me to not inhale it when it is all around me? I can’t very well control the air I breathe, can I?” *sniiiifffff*

MSB: “That is your problem to figure out. Just don’t inhale.”

GD: *turns to hippie on her left* “What’s this? Oh, I put it in my mouth and breathe in? Like this?” *cough*

MSB: “Goddammit Gemma! I tell you not to inhale second hand smoke and now you are smoking a joint?!”

GD: “How can weed be so bad if it makes me feel so good, man?”

MSB: “I’m not telling you. Even though you are feeling awesome right now, you are not to smoke any more pot. Ever. I will compel you with my mysterious and sexy ways to do as I say.”

GD: “Suck it mysterious sexy boy. Getting high is fun. I’m gonna go hang with these hippies and you can’t stop me.”

Does trouble ensue? Of course it does. We have read this plot dozens of times in countless paranormal YA books. Oh, not getting high at a Dead concert. Excuse me =) A young girl with newly discovered and tempting powers who is not supposed to fully explore them for no reason other than she is told not to. Even so, A Great and Terrible Beauty was a pleasurable read.

Set in a Victorian era all girl finishing school, A Great and Terrible Beauty tells the story of Gemma Doyle. Gemma is a teenage girl who has lived her entire life in India and only recently traveled to her home country of England after the unexpected death of her mother. Despite the setting, this story is thankfully fairly modern in its dialogue, plot pacing and many of its ideas. (Victorian novels always sound appealing to me, but frequently bore me to tears when I actually attempt to read them.) This novel explores the constraints of Victorian society, the way teenage girls manage to be constant frenemies, and a pretty cool paranormal world.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is a solid three stars. It is not the best this genre has to offer, but it is far from the worst. As the first of a trilogy it contains the inevitable set up and uncompleted threads. However, it does not end on a nasty cliffhanger, so those who just aren’t feeling this after reading it shouldn’t be left wondering too much at the end of the book.
Profile Image for Maria Clara.
994 reviews506 followers
February 18, 2019
Exactamente no sé qué decir. En parte me ha gustado, pero me ha faltado algo, quizá más romance o acción.
Profile Image for Wren (fablesandwren).
675 reviews1,501 followers
September 17, 2020
This series is one of my favorite. Reviewing it will not do it justice.

Bray creates a world of dreams, wonder and magic. With every thing beautiful, something dark, horrible and nightmarish comes forth. Because what is light without the contracting dark?

Not everything that comes from dreams, wonder and magic is good though. And not everything that is dark, horrible and nightmarish is bad. So what can you trust? The feeling in your gut? The pull towards your deepest desire? Is it truly worth it? Are the dark secrets that lay before you worth the power?

Gemma is going crazy. She saw her mother die, yet she wasn't in eye shot of her. She sees things.. sees people.. yet is it really crazy if it is actually happening?

She finally gets to go to London to finishing school where she meets three girls that lives will forever be altered by her own. These girls feel as if finishing school is rubbish and that there is more out there for themselves. Which they do indeed find out just what is out there for them.

She is followed by a man, Kartik, who believes her when she says she saw her mother's death. He tells her not to dig any deeper and to leave things alone.

But how can she when there's even a 01% chance that she will be able to see her mother again? Who is this creepy, gypsy-like guy anyway and why does he even believe her?

This book is full of magic. I am telling you, it is beautiful. It's woven so well that at some points you are like, "wait, why can't this happen to me?"

Bray has a way of getting you to love characters so much that you feel like you actually know the person. Then she may do something horrible to them. That's when you'll throw the book across the room, sit for about five seconds, and then run to pick it up and continue reading.

Or you'll be like me and read the end before you even are past chapter three because you can't handle anything. I advise against doing that. I'm not a good role model.

This series WILL, and I underline that with all my feeling, break your heart. It will break it so much that you can't pick it up again and read it until it's been seven years or more (example: me), but you won't regret a thing.

I love and hate you Libba Bray.
Profile Image for Cesar.
354 reviews235 followers
March 31, 2020
2 stars

I've read two of Libba Bray's books before I started goodreads. The first was Going Bovine which I did put down because I was confused but later picked it up and I liked it. Then I read The Diviners and though I thought it was too long, I liked it. I did know of her Gemma Doyle trilogy but I never got the chance to read them. Recently, they went on sale and I decided that this year will be the year I read the entire trilogy.

And now that I've read A Great and Terrible Beauty, I wonder why this series has so many good reviews when I thought it was a 'meh' book. I went into it with little to no expectations which were a good thing otherwise my review would've been much harsher.

A Great and Terrible Beauty tells the story of Gemma Doyle who is living in India with her mother when her mother commits suicide. She is then sent to England to attend Spence Academy, a boarding school for young women. There, she starts to discover secrets about herself, the school, and strange magic powers.

For a historical fantasy novel, it's lacking, to say the least. There's so much going for it only to be lackluster in some parts while having bad characters.

Something that you should keep in mind is that this book was published in 2003 and there are some things here that do warrant some attention. There's the use of the word g*psy as well as a character who self harms but is then told to stop and she does but that's not how it works.

So, A Great and Terrible Beauty is not a bad book. The pacing was fast enough for me to get through quicker than I had originally expected and the magic was intriguing enough for me to continue. Sadly my praise ends there. Because for the most part, I found the story to be lacking and the characters themselves did not help the progression of the story.

What I found lacking is how the story itself was presented or how it tried to present itself. This is a historical fantasy story with magic, secret orders, all taking place in late 19th century England. With all those things combined, it should've made a great story. Except it doesn't. Most of the story is basically Mean Girls with magic sprinkled in here and there. It read like a drama half of the time than it did paranormal. The glimpses we do see of the paranormal and magic are great but it's gone just as it had arrived. When it did end, I was left wanting more of the lore. Yes, I'm aware this is the first book of a trilogy, but they're just wasn't enough. I do have some anticipation of reading the next two books since I know the magic will be explored.

The characters, as a whole, were not likable save for one of them, Ann. Gemma herself goes back and forth between being nice and rude and stupid. It's a full circle of her being annoying which I guess was supposed to come off as feisty but it didn't. Then there's Felicity and Pippa and I'm going to say this in the nicest way possible: They're total bitches. They're mean to Gemma and Ann but then all of them are BFFs and every mean comment the two made about Gemma and Ann is swept under the rug like it never happened. Bullshit. If my bullies decided to be my friends, I would spit in their food and tell them to fuck off. It's a toxic friendship and I'm surprised Libba Bray went in that direction.

My time reading A Great and Terrible Beauty was sort of fun. I did like learning about the magic but everything else was a mess. I'm still going to continue on with the trilogy because I'm a completionist and I did buy them on sale so there's that.

There is a great beauty in the story. But it's also a terrible beauty.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,235 followers
April 28, 2012
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 the same. But, the expectation of things going somewhere kind of kept my attention.

This book is about a girl who has special powers. So, right there you’ve basically got me. I mean, there are still only about five books about girls with special powers, right? Female special powers automatically give this book has a bunch of points in its favor. But, after that there is not much to the whole story, so not a lot else going for it. But, speaking of that, let’s list the books with girls who have special powers.

The main contenders:

1. Golden Compass
2. Hunger Games
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone
4. Blood Red Road

I didn’t include Buffy because, even though the eighth season is written down, the bulk of the story is on TV. And then there is Twilight, where the super power is kind of appalling. And then you have sort of middle-ground books like Shiver, Uglies, Wicked Lovely, City of Bones, Wither, Darkfever, etc., where there is a girl, and she is the protagonist, and there are fantastical things, but the girl doesn’t really have a power, you know? Like, I don’t think falling in love with a dog or seeing fairies is really a power. If anything, it’s a lame power and more similar to the Twilight power. Also, it is scientifically proven that the ol’ magic vagina, or the wikimagvag, as it’s popularly called, is not a super power. And if we’re going for positive role models, I’d kind of rather see nothing fantastical than see super-creepy-mom power or super-child-prostitute power or super-animal-sex power keep cropping up all over the place.

So, that’s my take on the current state of girls with special powers. Actually, now that I think about it, even in my main-contenders list, only Daughter of Smoke and Bone actually has a girl with extra powers that are above the people around her. Even Katniss is just a girl who grew up tough and learned how to shoot stuff in the woods. Man. What is up with girls not getting super powers, huh? That’s kind of a bummer. I know about Kitty and the Midnight Hour and Anita Blake, but I have not read them. Do they actually have special powers, or is that the wikimagvag all over again? And feel free to tell me about any girls I should know about.

In A Great and Terrible Beauty, our girl Gemma has some magical powers, so that’s pretty cool. The thing is that the rest of it isn’t so exciting. There’s kind of a mystery and this group of girls kind of . And Libba Bray confronts anti-feminist messages pretty head on, but, I don’t know, sometimes the way she does that is so heavy handed that it almost seems useless to me. Like, everyone is walking around this book saying stuff like, “Well, my mother told me that ladies have to find a husband and can’t work.” It has this twenty-first-century directness that is a little tiresome to see in a nineteenth-century setting. And then the girls get together and sort of undermine that message by bonding in a magical cave (ummm, and there is actually a chance that is some kind of womb imagery, which is a little tiresome, too). But, at the same time, do they undermine the anti-feminist messages? Not really. The ending is pretty ambivalent about women’s control over our own lives, I think.

A lot of people have talked about how unlikeable the girls are in this story, and I have to agree with that. Some of it seemed deliberate, but that didn’t really make it better to me. They were all grasping for something in what seemed like a symbolic way – Felicity for power, Pippa for romance, Ann for beauty. And then Gemma, the chosen one, knew that people can only get what we desire if we go at it through seeking self-actualization. And all of this plays out in the tone of a fable and ended up as kind of another heavy-handed message that I don’t really disagree with, but that I felt myself resisting only for its heavy-handedness.

So, all of it left me with this really mediocre amount of interest. The story was okay, the action was okay, the friendships were okay, even the special power was very, very okay. I will say, though, that I listened to this on audio, and it is a beautiful audio. The reader has this exceptional pace and lovely voice. I definitely recommend the audio if you feel like picking this book up. And I wouldn’t even recommend against reading this book, I just hoped for so much more.
913 reviews401 followers
February 6, 2010
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) learn the important skills of painting, waltzing, and French. Gemma's roommate, Ann, is the one scholarship student -- orphaned, plain-looking, lonely, deliberately cutting her skin as a means of relief. Gemma also meets a clique straight out of the movie "Mean Girls" -- Felicity (the dominant leader), Pippa (the beautiful and dumb sidekick), and a few other forgettable hangers-on. It's fierce enmity at first sight, with a variety of nasty pranks exchanged until Gemma discovers an incriminating secret about Felicity. Whereupon Gemma and Felicity immediately become the best of friends (nothing like blackmail to forge a deep friendship), forming a new foursome comprised of Felicity and Pippa, and Gemma and Ann. Gemma gradually discovers that she has magic powers which can take her to supernatural realms, and that she can even bring her new bosom buddies with her. But -- surprise, surprise -- there's a dark side to all this power, and it proves dangerous.

Where to begin? Well, first of all, the story is rather anachronistic or just plain artificial in a lot of ways. I guess I'm kind of a purist, but I can't help feeling that if you want to write about this era, do it right. When I read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I actually felt like I was reading a Victorian novel even though it was written only a few years ago. Here, I alternated between feeling like Libba was superimposing modern-day sensibilities and feeling like she was grossly exaggerating the norms of the times. On the one hand, you've got these Victorian teenagers drinking and discussing sex graphically from a pretty well-informed perspective at a time when revealing an ankle was considered scandalous. On the other hand, you've got a singularly beautiful girl being completely forced by her parents (absolutely no veto power granted to her, even though Jane Austen's heroines seemed perfectly capable of rejecting unwanted marriage proposals) to marry a man 40 years older than she is (come on, with her beauty they couldn't at least find a younger guy?) because he has money. I can't claim to know enough about that era to know whether either, or both, of those things were completely inconsistent with the times but they sure didn't ring true to me.

Ditto for the boarding school where the girls seem to get away with murder because the headmistress (called Mrs. Nightwing even though she's apparently a spinster -- did I miss something?) drinks sherry at night and remains blissfully unaware of the girls sneaking out at all hours. And Gemma's cynicism and inner sarcasm also beg the question of anachronism; I'm not saying people didn't have negative thoughts back then, but I think that expressing them in that particular way, even inwardly, is distinctly contemporary. Someone I work with once told me that her teenage daughter says things to her that (and this is a direct quote), "I never even dared to think about my mother." I think there's something to that -- if you go back a few generations, there were certain thoughts that not only weren't expressed, but weren't indulged. You'll never find this kind of direct snarkiness in real Victorian books; if it's there at all, it's expressed in a far more subtle and classy way.

Little aside/disclaimer here: truthfully, I'm not sure how much to criticize Libba for what was arguably a legitimate artistic decision. As she says, "There's definitely an element of 'fusion cooking' at work here. I wanted to have all the trappings of that [Victorian:] era...But I wanted [the girls:] to have a universality to them, too; a sort of modernity of feeling." Is it wrong to try to set a book in Victorian times and, at the same time, try to give your heroine some thoughts and feelings that would make her more relatable for 21st century readers (especially teens)? When I think back on the Victorian books I've read, though, I found the heroines quite relatable within the confines of their being consistent with their context. I didn't need them to express 21st century cynicism in order for me to empathize with them.

Complaint #2 -- way too many coincidences/artificial contrivances. Kartik, an attractive (of course) young man who witnessed Gemma's mother's death, keeps popping up conveniently at the right places at the right times -- first in India, then camping outside of Gemma's British school with the gypsies -- and is somehow present to warn or protect Gemma at practically every critical plot turn. Didn't he have a life? Was it part of the magic angle that he always knew where to be and when? And when Pippa has her seizure while the girls were practicing waltzing under the headmistress's supervision, naturally it was Miss Moore, the avant-garde art teacher (think Julia Roberts' character in "Mona Lisa Smile" or Miss Jean Brodie) who was conveniently present (why? It wasn't art class) to help out and as a result, to be available for a significant heart-to-heart with Gemma. And when Pippa later tries to break off her engagement, why is the headmistress involved? And why does she call a meeting not only with Pippa, but with the other members of the clique, to discuss the whole thing? Wouldn't this be more appropriately dealt with between Pippa, her fiance, and her parents?

Finally, I have to try to articulate my irritation with the writing. Here's a phrase I got from goodreads reviews that I've been longing to use -- the prose was clunky. CLUNKY. CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK. I felt like I was watching a bad movie. Transitions were abrupt or nonexistent, not to mention flat characters and often stilted dialogue.

The one good thing I have to say is that it was a fast read, and for all my complaints, not quite awful enough to abandon. And here or there, there was actually an interesting insight embedded among all the tripe. Hence the two stars.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
November 15, 2009
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 and issues. The combination of Indian colonial culture and 19th-century English boarding school for girls created one great atmosphere. Plus focus on the exploration of confines of Victorian society rather than on oh so popular these days teenage romances was a winner for me. I also enjoyed the dynamic of newly forming relationship between 4 very different girls who all are plagued by their real even nowadays problems and who find an outlet and some semblance of temporary freedom in the Realms. Finally, the mythology in this book was original, rich, and layered.

As for weaknesses, there were a few as well. First, we never see the full scope of Gemma's supposedly special "powers," in fact it seems they are limited to her ability to transport her friends into the Realms to do rather silly and childish things. The book doesn't fare well as a stand-alone either. There is definitely a lot of foreshadowing that is never fully realized in the conclusion and is a set-up for the next two books. But because the entire trilogy is already out, this didn't really bother me.

In addition, I've read (or rather listened to) an audio version of the book and have to note that narrator does a commendable job aside from making Kartik speak with an atrocious Indian accent, even though in the book in was clearly stated he spoke English without one.

Overall, this book was a pleasant reading experience. I am planning on finishing the entire trilogy.

Reading challenge: #1 - B
Profile Image for Tilly Booth.
181 reviews938 followers
August 3, 2015

I've been putting of this series for a while since I only had the first book in the series...however, I chose to buy them on my kindle too and since then I binge read the whole thing. The first book, A Great and Terrible Beauty had me absolutely hooked from the first page. However, in my opinion the series went downhill from each book after that.

The characters in this book were wonderful. The main character, Gemma was a problematic teen who held power she didn't quite understand. Her friends, Pippa, Felicity and Ann are just as complicated. The back stories behind them are well planned and thought out. They're not just people who standby by and allow Gemma to be the hero. No, they're right there next to her being just as wonderful as her. I did feel that the character of Kartik wasn't as well rounded and formulated as the female characters in this book. I didn't feel a connection with him and I struggled to see a relationship between him and Gemma other than lust.

As for the storyline...the first book, it was mind-blowing. Then the next to books seemed very similar to the first book. Eventually i could predict what would happen, easily.

It was a book that kept me turning the page but it did not keep on my toes. In saying that though there were parts towards the end that I couldn't have predicted. Which was a pleasant surprise.

Over all I give this series a 3 out of 5 stars!
Profile Image for Marissa.
338 reviews
February 6, 2008
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 supernatural suspense that I don't handle well. I am undecided whether I'll go on to read the other books in the series or not (although I was intrigued so I might try it--I'll wait a few more days to see how many nightmares I have before deciding for sure).

The story follows Gemma Doyle from the death of her mother in India to her placmeent in a finishing school back in England. Gemma has a strange ability to transport into a different realm where she sees visions. She makes friends at the school and together they begin to adventure as they learn more about the realms and what Gemma's purpose might be.

Gemma is a great character, but her friends are not so easily likeable for me. Well, likeable, but they seem such superficial friends in many ways that some of what happens doesn't come as a surprise. I think it is nice that Bray makes the characters have flaws but I don't know that I particularly appreciated them. However, some of their foibles (self mutilation for example) is something that may bring stuffy victorian characters to life for teens nowadays.

That said, I sometimes question what the label "Young Adult" means. I didn't feel that this was inappropriate for young adults (except for a few things, Mary Dowd's sacrifice) but that might be because it was almost too much for me, so why should a teenager have to deal with it?

I recently went on a crusade to read the books my local high school was requiring it's students to read. I thought I would be exposed to authors I hadn't heard of, my understanding of young adult fiction was limited and I looked forward to exapnding it. I found most of the books horrible, offensive, and not well-written. I wonder what makes a novel a young adult book?

It seems that having a teenage character is the only requirement. Whether it is suitable for teens (or anyone else) doesn't matter.

Okay, back to the book... I enjoyed it but it didn't bowl me over (and I admit that I expected that after hearing some reviews and reading some Q&A sessions with Libby Bray). We'll see if I read the other ones...

Profile Image for Pip.
169 reviews468 followers
May 13, 2020
Re-read again in 2020. I still adore this book. It is still perfect. My hearts beats for this book like no other. No further questions your honour


Still perfect. Remains one of my all-time favourites! <333
Profile Image for Mizuki.
2,971 reviews1,176 followers
March 10, 2015
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...A Great and Terrible Beauty isn't the worst book I've ever read, comparing with A Discovery of Witches (which I'm sure I'm going to Do Not Finish) it's highly enjoyable. It's a quick, easy read and it doesn't charge you too much brain cells, but I still won't recommend it to people who've already read a few paranormal YA novels before, because the story really is Nothing Special.

First, let me tell you I needed to keep telling myself to calm down when reading this book, and that's the only reason why I managed to avoid throwing a bitch fit during the reading process. Why? Here're a few reasons:

(1) The story begins with the MC arguing with her mother on the street of Bombay, India; an Indian colonial city at that time, and said MC had been behaving in an rather disrespectful manner toward the local people and her very own Indian housekeeper.

Well...I actually needed to put the book aside and take some deep breath and reminded myself the story is set in the 1890s, and it probably was common for the white people to feel superior toward the locals, but still...the MC had really been quite a bitch toward her housekeeper, whom she had known for most of her life and acted as the MC's caretaker.

I'm disgusted.

Plus, it goes without saying that once the MC left India behind, not once did the MC remember the housekeeper, not once.

Edited@27/02/2015: well, a helpful reviewer came up to say the MC, Gemma, did think of her Indian housekeeper for a few times, but I'm sorry, I really was unable to find it in the Chinese translation I read.

(2) Somehow, a British citizen who wasn't born with a single drop of Indian blood in her, and who also wasn't a Hinduist, had adopted Goddess Kali, the goddess of destruction, as her guardian goddess.

I'm disgusted, as an non-Hinduist, when I visited India some years ago, for more than once I wasn't allowed to come anywhere near some of the shrines within the temples, because those important shrines are for believers only. But it's okay for the MC, a non-Hinduist, to appoint Kali to be her guardian goddess!?

That's bullshit.

And said MC was referring Goddess Kali to an 'evil goddess'. I'm sorry!? In the Hindus myths, Kali drinks blood and she kills a lot of demons, but at the same time she's viewed as a great mother and protector of humankind. So she is definitely not evil! Ignorant Little White Girl, would you please not put your sticky fingers on the Hindus myth and a goddess you obviously know nothing about?

(3) There's also an Indian young man who serves as the love interest, I don't have much to say about him because he's only there to be the mysterious, handsome guy; but at least this guy is a shade better than what we had gotten in this godforsaken Tiger's Curse book.

(4) Last but not least, the MC had been a little bitch toward her mother.

I'm aware of the fact that girls from Victorian era probably weren't supposed to be worldly and knowledgeable about things outside of their families and their social circle, instead they were expected to be sheltered and naive in order to keep their 'innocence', but still.

Thankfully, the story moves from Bombay to London after Chapter 4 or so, but I'm still faced by other problems:

(5)There's magic, secret societies, demons(?) and otherworldly dimensions in the story, but the world building is as weak as what we had gotten from the Prophecy of the Sisters series by Michelle Zink. In another word: empty stupid make-believe.

(6) Once the MC arrived to the boarding school for young ladies, we get the complete Mean Girls treatment.

(7) Supposedly the MC befriended three other girls in the boarding school, but I can never believe those girls had shared deep enough friendship and trust to a point they agreed to keep an important secret together.

(8) School girls doing witchcraft in the boarding school. *facepalms* I know they were only 16 or so years old, but still.

(9) The MC never learns.

(10) The ending...bad things happened to the MC and her friends, and I'm not even sorry, instead I'm aloof and don't give a damn about whether those girls live or die. Why should I care when there had already been people forewarning the MC and her friends: "Don't do this! Don't go there! It's dangerous!" but they still do it anyway?

My suggestion: this book doesn't worth your hard-earned money, borrow it.
Profile Image for Mari.
705 reviews5,033 followers
August 12, 2019
1.5 stars

I'm giving it a comparative .5 of a star, because this isn't AS BAD as some of my other one star reads, at least in terms of writing quality. And that is probably the only positive thing I have to say.

This book was deeply not for me. A lot of the complaints I have below could be simply written off as things that are of the time in which this was written, but that removes all responsibility from the author for what she has created. Bray tried to say some things about the constraints of the time period, misogyny and the lack of agency pushed upon young girls, but it gets drowned out in one dimensional characters, poor representation and a simple (at best) plot. Even as the characters try to rebel against the constraints, those decisions and rebellions come off as extremely frustrating. Gemma is gullible and makes nonsensical decisions. I guess that would've been more tolerable if everything else in this book weren't also annoying af.

I honestly think this story is supposed to be about four friends coming together to form a sort of coven? Friendship doesn't go here. This is better described as a long series of inexplicable girl hate. There is also a ton of body shaming and fat shaming that is uncomfortable to read. There is also some self-harm depicted that is not confronted in any meaningful way.

The hint at a romance was rushed and strange. Worse, the love interest is fetishized for being non-white. In additional racist bullshit, all of the rest of the non-white characters were portrayed as oversimplified stereotypes, violent or subservient. Bray repeatedly uses the g-word to refer to Romanian people and even if it is "era appropriate," it is still a slur and I didn't want to read it a million times.

I didn't enjoy a lick of this. Truly, it was a joyless read.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
October 5, 2013
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 book, I was left with an overwhelming sensation of "meh."

Why did the book lose my interest so quickly? Here's a quickly compiled list of possible reasons:

A) Began in India, but then switched to an isolated boarding school for girls in Victorian England. Come on! They lost me as soon as they left an amazing setting with all kinds of possibility for a mediocre one.

B) It's a young adult book and those don't always sit well with me. I just couldn't connect to the four girls that form the clique in the book. Case in point: they begin dabbling in witchcraft and one uses her power to create the perfect Prince Charming and one uses hers to--shock!--be beautiful. Puh-leaze.

C) Speaking of the four girls, stereotypes in the extreme: the mysterious one with a dark secret; the beautiful, but tragic one; the rebellious spirit; and the plain girl who doesn't belong in this world of prestige and riches.

So why did I give it a 3? It's fairly well written, it has an interesting premise (though the execution falls flat), there are a few genuinely funny moments,and it will probably appeal to the intended audience. I may read the sequels, but it will be a bit before I muster up the interest in doing so.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
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