Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Star Rating: 4/5

A Great and Terrible Beauty

By Libba Bray

All Gemma Doyle wanted was to leave India, go to London, and enjoy the parties her grandmother described in her letters. What Gemma did not want was to go because her mother was murdered or, as her brother would have her tell her new classmates at Spence Academy, because her mother died of cholera. Gemma knows the truth; at least she thinks she does. The day her mother died, Gemma had her first vision. She had just run angrily away from her mother when the vision opened—a vision of her mother being attacked by a creature that came out of the shadows. The vision and her mother are gone now, and Gemma is to become a suitable wife along with the other Spence girls. Except there is another option, one involving her visions. Gemma’s first vision was just a taste of what is inside her. After falling into another vision, Gemma is confronted by a stranger who demands she stop having them. How can she stop though when she realizes she could control the visions and change her fate? When she could have power, beauty, even her mother again?

Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty draws the reader in right from the beginning and keeps her wondering throughout the book. Bray does an excellent job blending the past and the future. She teases you with tidbits of the past, making you question and consider what you know and think you know, without revealing the mystery and adventure of the future. The reader may notice more than Gemma if she pays careful attention to the tidbits and begins to make guesses on her own but never so much so that Gemma starts to seem oblivious. The mystery is enhanced by the other characters, particularly her classmates Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. Each at first seems fairly flat and stereotypical, but the reader discovers with Gemma that they are not as they seem. The girls are easily relatable with their varied personalities, dreams, and sometimes surprising and always enlightening secrets. These secrets and the others throughout the book are what tantalize the reader, begging her to question what she knows compared to what she perceives and assumes.

Note: I am a sensitive reader and don’t enjoy reading things that make me mentally or physically uncomfortable in certain ways. There is a short scene involving sexual content in this book, which may to you seem tame. I felt the scene was unnecessarily descriptive. I feel that it could have been removed from the novel, taking nothing from the characterization or plot. For these reasons, I have deducted a star from my rating. I would still recommend this book to mature readers who could recognize the passage, skip over it if they wish, and still enjoy the story. Obviously, this is strictly my opinion and you are free to think, feel, and do as you please.