A Great And Terrible Beauty is the first book in a trilogy (again. And again. Who writes stand-alones anymore?), it is Libba Bray’s first novel and it was published in 2003.
It is the year 1895. Gemma Doyle is an unhappy teenager. She lives in India with her parents, but she would much rather go with her mother to England. But then, on her 16th birthday, Gemma finds out that she has a terrible power and her life changes completly. She is finally allowed to go to a school near London, but she couldn’t be more miserable.
So this is the setting, a boarding school at the end of the 19th century. This reminded me a little bit of some early chapters of Jane Eyre. I liked this! This was a story about loss and grief, about being thrown into a new situation, about freedom and all that with some paranormal stuff mixed into it. Gemma makes friends and enemys at her new School, she struggles to be accepted and respected. At this point I thought, this is the definition of a book for young adults. It deals with all those fears and wishes. But, luckily, Libba Bray goes beyond that. She also talks about freedom, choices and forgiveness.
I thought Gemma was a very believable character. She was stubborn, quick-tempered, bitchy and had that teenage egocentricity. Sometimes, I was unhappy with how she did not see obvious things, but all in all I liked her character and how she developed during the book. I also liked the other girls and how different sides of their characters where shown during the book. On some points though I thought the girls acted a little out of character. Those inconsistencies were rare though, so I could overlook them.
Overall the writing was really good. Sometimes there were some really beautifully written passages, sometimes it was just okay. Libba Bray managed to create a 19th century setting without destroying it through a too modern writing style and without making it hard to read. It didn’t feel like it was written during that time period, but it was a good read nonetheless and I really liked the atmosphere of this book.
At the beginning of the book it reminded me of a strange mixture of Mean Girls and The Craft (from what I remember a really crappy teen horror film from the 90s about four girls playing with witchcraft), but the book managed to get out of that. It was not incredibly fast-paced, but I liked it that way. What I disliked were some decisions Gemma and other characters made. I wanted them to ask more questions and to open their eyes for the obvious. So, considering all that, I think A Great And Terrible Beauty is a really good book, but not overwhelming. I will read the next book in the series for sure, but I don’t think it will be one of my favorite books.