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A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  178,047 Ratings  ·  8,713 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

Hardcover, 403 pages
Published December 9th 2003 by Simon and Schuster
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Karen Kimbrough I wasn't sure at first if I liked it or not. It's not as as full of the supernatural as the books I'm used to, but I kept reading. I was attracted to…moreI wasn't sure at first if I liked it or not. It's not as as full of the supernatural as the books I'm used to, but I kept reading. I was attracted to the themes of coming-of-age, tragedy, and the idea of bullies amid the Victorian era. It was high-fashion to be "into" elegant paranormal, so these young girls delving into something "more" was gothic yet cute(?) to them. They didn't know what they were doing. If you're looking for a scary novel, this really isn't it, but if something more intellectual, more like an old-fashioned 1940's movie is to your liking; you'll like it. I mean it's written so that a teen would understand it, but it's not just full of blood either. It is rather sad most of the time though. Despite that, I did like it.(less)
Gemma I usually avoid books that has romance but i loved this! The book didn't focus on it at all.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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
Jan 12, 2008 Jennie rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Emily May
May 20, 2011 Emily May rated it really liked it

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

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
Rick Riordan
Nov 07, 2013 Rick Riordan rated it really liked it
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
Hailey (HaileyInBookland)
Libba Bray never seems to disappoint and this was no exception! I really loved this one! I love the time period and all the witchiness and the characters were awesome, it was great!
Whitney Atkinson
Apr 24, 2015 Whitney Atkinson rated it really liked it
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
Trina (Between Chapters)
Series review video:

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 fi
A.G. Howard
May 06, 2015 A.G. Howard rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jul 03, 2008 Kirsty rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 11, 2007 Cristin rated it liked it  ·  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
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
May 07, 2011 Nikki rated it did not like it
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
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
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
Tilly Booth
Aug 02, 2014 Tilly Booth rated it really liked it

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
Wren | WrensReads
WrensReads Review

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
May 03, 2009 Amanda rated it liked it
Shelves: young-adult, blog
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
Chelsea (chelseadolling reads)
Review to come later, after I've finished thinking about it. Hmm hmm hmm.
Jun 23, 2015 Pinky rated it it was amazing
First off, I want to say HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It's crazy because I started the New Year with a new book. :) Anyway, I learned so much in my year of 2015 and can't wait to learn more. I read so many beautiful books that I may reread because MOST OF THEM WERE AWESOME! 2016 is going to be an interesting year and I just want to thank all of my Goodreads friends who are all awesome and make my day. Whenever something horrible happens, I know that all of my Goodreads friends will cheer me up! Thank you to
Feb 03, 2010 K rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K by: goodreads
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)
May 26, 2008 Jenny rated it it was amazing
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
May 17, 2009 Tatiana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of Victorian boarding school setting
Shelves: 2009, ya
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
Aug 20, 2007 Jane rated it did not like it
Shelves: didnt-finish
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
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

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...

Libba Bray managed to combine all three components in A Great and Terrible Beauty which are a great premise, terrible characters and motivation behind their behavior and a beautiful writing. Unfortunately, no matter how great the premise was and how bea
Dany Burns
I liked this book a lot. It was so refreshing to me to see a book that focused so much more heavily on female friendship than on the romance aspects because it is so rare to see that in teen books. There were a few parts where I thought this story got a little repetitive, especially towards the end, but that didn't take away from my love of this book that much. I did enjoy the plot and I am excited to see what happens in the next book but what really drew me into this story was the characters. A ...more
Cristina Nomuh
Nov 17, 2016 Cristina Nomuh rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

Such a great, different book where the main character is not a hero or a saint. Great start to my first Libba Bray book and I'll definitely read more of her soon!
Oct 25, 2008 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  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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Katrik..... 40 277 Jan 17, 2017 03:50AM  
Lgbt 6 94 Sep 11, 2016 07:38PM  
who loves (and hates) this book? 72 366 Jul 21, 2016 08:33PM  
Around the Year i...: A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray 1 10 Jul 02, 2016 04:23AM  
YA Buddy Readers'...: A Great and Terrible Beauty - by Gemma Doyle - Restarting May 12th 2016 63 179 Apr 19, 2016 02:51AM  
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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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Other Books in the Series

Gemma Doyle (3 books)
  • Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle, #2)
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“There are no safe choices. Only other choices.” 730 likes
“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 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?” 729 likes
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