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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 December 2009
I suspect that if I'd still been a teenager (sigh!) I'd have loved this book but, as an adult, it's a good read but not a great one. With more than a shade of Jane Eyre about it, it yet subverts that story while maintaining some of the gothic and emotional elements.

Gemma leaves India in 1895 after the mysterious death of her mother and is sent to a boarding school in England. Alongside the struggle to make friends and find a place in the pecking order, she discovers her own powers to cross magic worlds. But some people fear her and even she is not sure whether she can control her own power or not...

This is written in the first person and Gemma's voice works well: sensuous and poetic at times, with the snarky tone of a teenage girl at others. I guess this dropped a star as it sometimes felt a bit rushed to me, with lots of trails starting then not being followed through. Perhaps that's because this is the start of a trilogy?

Overall I enjoyed reading this but wasn't completely enthralled. But I suspect my nieces will be.
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on 28 January 2013
You'll find this book very hard to put down - it is a period novel, the action takes place at an english girls boarding school.There is much unexplained magic and supernatural power surrounding Gemma Doyle, and the mysterious Kartik, who has followed her from India and is now hiding out in the gypsy camp nearby. The heroine struggles to fit in with the elite girls at her new school, she finds herself constrained by society's expectations of females and she feels cut adrift from her family. See my blog for a more detailed review, and if you enjoy this book, it is a trilogy, so there are 2 more to read!
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on 3 March 2017
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A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is, quite simply, a fantastic novel. Although it is directed at young adults, older readers can easily find something in this cleverly written piece of work. As others have also said, A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY has many components - love, freindship, family betrayal, passion, desire, duty . . . the list could go on.

The story is about Gemma Doyle. At the age of 16, following the death of her mother, she is shipped off to London from her life in India to attend a boarding school. The girl that she shares a room with, Ann, is similar to Gemma in that they are both misfits at this well-to-do school. Ann is an orphan and Gemma feels as though she is an inconvenience to her father and brother.
Life at Spence, the school, is not an easy one for Gemma. She and Ann have to suffer being on the 'outside' of the popular group and so their isolation is more acute than some of the other girls. For Gemma, there is the added problem of her terrifying visions. She does not understand why she has them or how to control them, but they seem to have a horrible habit of coming true.
Yet someone has followed her from India, someone who knows that she has these visions, someone who is warning her that they are dangerous.

This is only part of the plot. There are many elements to this story that enhaance it, keeping you eager to carry on reading and reach the end. There are a few plot twists that are easy to figure out before they are confirmed within the story, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of reading.

What I really like about this book is that the characterisation is so well done. Gemma and her friends are not two dimensional; each has their own personality that has complex elements to make that character whole. No one is portrayed as necessarily all bad or all good - rather, the way they make decisions and react to situations in their life can be read as either good or bad, evil or not.

This is a fantastic read. A great way to start a series.
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on 5 May 2006
I do admit that the first thing that attracted me to this book was the wonderful cover. As a bookseller I should know NOT to judge by the cover, but I cant help it. However, this was one time when it wasnt such a bad idea. The story of a very independent, mature and troubled girl of 16 is fetching and you take a whirlewind trip with her towards finding her self. Troubled by guilt over her mothers death, her fathers illness and her mystical powers that scare her, she arrives at Spence school for girl in England. Branded as an outcast, she fights her way to the top, and befriends the most powerful girl at school. Bringing together four unlikely friends in a great, but terrible beauty. Access to the other realms of our world. But is everything as shiny and nice as it seems, or is darkness and shadows hunting her down behind her back. Terrifying, powerful and moving story! Well worth reading!
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on 17 September 2010
I must make an important note here, digress and ask: has anyone else noticed that using the word "gingerly" is practically a prerequisite for young adult authors to consider themselves thus? Seriously, I could (and if I ever have the time, will) make a list of young adult lit that employ that infamous word! Nowhere else have I seen that adjective/adverb so frequently used. It's certainly never used in common speech. I'm going to test it out-just to see whether or not people look at me as though I have three heads if I actually say something like: "I gingerly took the antique mirror from its place, high upon the wall." Seriously, who says it? Do publishers force young adult authors to throw the word in for good measure? Is it an ingredient, like paprika, that the potato salad of young adult lit just wouldn't be the same without? For Libba Bray's sake, I must note that she used it only once, if I'm not mistaken...and it wasn't poorly used, by any means...It just makes me smile every time I come across it.

Back to the book-It was well done, although there were portions of the book that seemed a bit forced.

Great & Terrible Beauty is set (during the first 30 pages in India) in turn-of-the-century England, at an all girls preparatory school. Gemma, the main character, has experienced a mysterious tragedy, and enters the school with a sense of foreboding that she cannot shake, or seem to share with anyone. After a very short time, the reader is introduced to what will become an unlikely group of friends, consisting of the archetypal cruel, power-hungry beauty (Felicity), the fickle follower (Pippa), the spirited upstart (Gemma) and the dowdy outcast (Ann).

Certain aspects of the book annoyed me. One of the subplots consisted of Ann's injuring herself, by scratching at her wrists. While I'm certain women of all eras have harmed themselves in order to remind themselves that they "can still feel", I couldn't help but feel as though Bray was taking an idea from a more modern story (about the more modern phenomenon of cutting, for example) and trying to push it into this novel...The lasting effect resulted in the proverbial round peg, square hole dilemma. It didn't seem too necessary to force that type of character development on Ann, and again, seemed glaring only because it took me out of the time period that was intended for the story.

There are certain scenes that seemed to have been a bit too familiar. The most predictable scenes, however, were often followed by something pleasantly unexpected (I must be vague here, as I despise spoilers).

I have to give Bray credit for writing such a solid story with a main character who is clearly immature and flawed, yet still strong and likeable. I also appreciate the fact that Bray managed to tell an entertaining story, while trying to instill (in her primarily female audience) ideas of feminine power-a celebration of independence, strength and individuality.

As the reader continues on Gemma's journey, the existence of magical realms and an ancient, mystical Order takes over the bulk of the plot. The magic of the realms teeters on the edge of becoming a metaphor for drug use; at times I thought the narration of the story would break, and the reader would be told that the "magic" was really heroine, or something like it. My guess is that Bray was trying to find a venue for the exploration of Power, and what potential harm it can do to a person who thirsts for it without any thought of the consequences.

If you're looking for a slightly creepy, entertaining novel, you'll enjoy A Great & Terrible Beauty. I want to read the sequel, Rebel Angels, which I consider a good sign.
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on 2 July 2004
Finishing this novel is like having been reminded of the question like Who am I?, Have I found myself yet?
The story itself is about a sixteen-year old girl Gemma Doyle, who had her biggest biggest surprise for her birthday that turned her world upside down.
Being sucked into the magic realms, being left with a horrible vision of the death her mother and hunted down by terrifying shadows are only part of the surprise. Plus the adjustment she has to make among new people and custom in a girl dorm school, where she found her circle of friends.
Set in the end of nineteenth century, Gemma was a girl with some very revolutionaire independence thoughts and some of them clicked something in me and reminded me of the power of female gender (so awesome). There are also a companion character, Miss Moore, her teacher, who gave more sights on choices in life and the balance between light and dark in lessons she had, accompanied with a famous poem by Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott.
And there was also a romantic part in it (which I'm very grateful of) between Gemma and an mysterious young Indian man, who followed and watched her whereever she goes. I think this can be developed into an intense relationship.
I do hope there will be sequel to this because the journey of Gemma and her friends has just begun and there is no turning back, as once you make a choice, whether it would turn out to be a good or a bad one, you just have to accept the consequences and live with it.
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on 11 August 2011
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 both everything I expected and also everything I didn't expect. It's set for the most part in a boarding school for educating girls in the art of being 'ladies', or in other words: wives. The girls were expected to be reserved, polite and, most importantly, beautiful. This I was prepared for. I was also prepared for the customs, superstitions and blatant sexism of the times. However, it never occurred to me that this novel would be simply a 19th century take on a modern school. There's gossiping, bitchiness and bullying of those who are different (in this case, from a lower class).

It's a good dose of chick lit as well as a historical book. And that's before we've even gotten to the whole magic/fantasy aspect. This novel completely transcends genres and does it well. I didn't see the whole other-realm mysticality thing coming but I loved it. The gypsies are awesome as well, we have crazy gypsies, fake fortune-telling I-speak-with-dead-people gypsies, sexy gypsies (don't believe the rumours, 19th century girls didn't just lie back and think of England). And that's another thing I liked: the exploration of the girls' sexualities behind closed doors. It may not be the most reliable source, the book was written in modern times, but it's easy to imagine that beneath the surface of Victorian society's repressed sexuality, girls probably did talk about 'having' thousands of men: Earls, Dukes, Barons, Princes... Anyway, lost myself on a smutty tangent. I was saying that I liked the idea of weaving fantasy into history, I'm all for spicing up times gone by.

I didn't give it 5 stars because it wasn't quite up there with my other 5 star rated books. I liked it, I loved the many different elements that made the novel hard to categorise and I liked the characters. I always like it when things aren't just as simple as "she's a bitch" and "she's a freak" in any kind of genre. I liked how, even though Gemma lost her mother at the beginning, the relationship was still built up throughout. I liked that the protagonist wasn't a pushover, even more so because the novel setting was in a very sexist society. And I love anything with dreams and/or visions.
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on 15 August 2010
I found this book in my local book shop a few years ago and at that time I didn't know it was geared more towards an older teen/young adult audience. I will admit that if I knew this before I would not have picked it up so I am glad that I didn't notice. After the first few pages I was hooked and finished it on that same day and have read the other two in the series (which are also just as good by the way). The prose is lively and there are no stale parts. The main character is likable and it is easy to become engaged with the other characters as well. I would recommend A Great And Terrible Beauty and the other two books (Rebel Angels & The Sweet Far Thing). I warn you though: you will want to get your hands on all three because once you finish one you will want to start the other ASAP.
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on 18 December 2006
A great book that I couldn't put down from start to finish. I was even caught reading it in one of my classes it was so good. I picked it up at first thinking it was a historical fiction, the type of book I normally read, because it is set in the 1800's. And while it did have the essence of the past with girls wearing petticoats and being engaged to 40 year old men at 16 (yuck!) it was mainly about the struggles of Gemma and controling her new found power while trying to uncover a mystery. So if you like historical fiction, fantasy, drama or a good mystery book with a touch of romance, that also captures the reader from page 1, this book is for you. I highly recommend it.
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