Emily's Reviews > A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
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's review
Mar 28, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: 2010

Though it wasn't without charm, I thought this book lacked substance: all of its imaginings were so gauzy or contradictory that it never came together as a world or a story for me. The heroine, Gemma Doyle, grew up in India but is sent to an English girls' school after her mother's death. She struggles to make friends among her prickly new comrades and contends with a mysterious parallel world of magic that alternately threatens and entices her.

The period details were so often stilted that I found the environment impossible to picture. In an early scene, Gemma puts on her dress, then her corset. Is she going to a Renaissance Faire? One character has an accent that might be Irish, or Southern--who knows. The girls' school has the name of a real, well-known private school in Manhattan. The chief inspiration of this book seemed to be the Shirley Temple film, "A Little Princess."

Meanwhile, all the scenes in the magical realm seemed too unspecific for me to picture or feel. There is an evil entity that wants supreme power and a bucolic paradise where the girls can forget their cares. For a fantasy book, this struck me as frightfully unimaginative.

More intriguing was the way that Gemma manages to grow close to some of the apparently cruel or unfriendly girls and become friends with them. I liked the way that the author portrayed these girls as redeemable; their ugly traits are the protective veneer of teenage girls rather than true moral failings.
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