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A Great and Terrible Beauty

(Gemma Doyle #1)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  228,374 ratings  ·  10,070 reviews
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, an
Hardcover, 403 pages
Published December 9th 2003 by Simon and Schuster
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Becky Yes, but it is a slow delicious build. Much better than Twilight's Edward in my opinion.…moreYes, but it is a slow delicious build. Much better than Twilight's Edward in my opinion.(less)
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)

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Average rating 3.78  · 
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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 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
Rick Riordan
Nov 07, 2013 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
Emily May
May 20, 2011 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
Jun 21, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Melanie by: Julie Zantopoulos

Buddy Read with some amazing ladies and a traveling book, hosted by Julie over at Pages and Pens! ❤

A Great and Terrible Beauty is exactly why I am scared to read earlier decade(s) published novels that I remember were super hyped and popular. This also reads just like an early 2000s novel, with all the problematic content being there.

The basic premise of this book is a young girl named Gemma Doyle, is whisked away to a London boarding school after the death of her mother. Before her mother’s de

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
Hailey (Hailey in Bookland)
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!
Bonnie Shores
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: supernatural
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 grea
Dec 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
“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 h
Whitney Atkinson
Apr 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-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 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
Jean Menzies
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
A.G. Howard
May 06, 2015 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
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 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
Jul 03, 2008 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 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
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 con
Wren (fablesandwren)
Dec 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Meredith Holley
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
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 03, 2010 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 17, 2009 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
Tilly Booth
Aug 02, 2014 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
Jul 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
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
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
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

May 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: blog, young-adult
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
3.5 stars*

While this book was interesting and very enjoyable there were a few things that I struggled with.

1) The pacing. I found the pacing to be very slow and felt that nothing happened. The same thing seemed to happen all the time. Within the first 150 pages I was bored and struggled to get into the book, I honestly thought about DNFing it. I am not a huge fan of books that have a slow pace.

2) The writing. I don't know what it is but I am not a fan of the writing style. I found it hard to re
Chelsea (chelseadolling reads)
Review to come later, after I've finished thinking about it. Hmm hmm hmm. ...more
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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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“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?” 732 likes
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