Sunday, March 7, 2010
A Great and Terrible Beauty
by Libba Bray
Delacorte Books (2003)
Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Drama, Friendship
"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, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?"
At first I found it a little hard to get into the book because of Bray's writing style. First-person, present-tense. Wow. I'd never seen that used in a novel before. By the third chapter you get used to it, but it's still strange.
There are many times when I enjoy side-characters to main characters in a novel. However, this is the first time when I wished someone would kill the main character so that I could start following the amazing side-character and find out more about her.
Gemma Doyle, in my opinion, is a spoiled little brat throwing a tantrum because she's not getting what she wants at the beginning of the novel. For growing up away from England and the rich girls of Spence that she meets later, she does a fine job of acting like them, complaning to her mother and their housekeeper, Sarita.
I found the first half of the story very boring. Even the mysterious death of Gemma's mother didn't help to liven the story. It only got remotely interesting when Gemma was sent to Spence Academy two months later and met Felicity and Pippa, the two most powerful and cruel girls there. I originally took pity on her roommate, Ann, thinking she was just shy, like me. But at least I make some sort of effort to get to know people, whereas she prefers to keep to herself rather than be hurt by the rich girls who play pranks on her.
I temporarily gave Gemma a break, as she was still grieving her mother, whose death she thought she caused. But there comes a point when you have to scream at her "What the hell are you thinking?!" sneaking off in the middle of the night with Felicity's group, and nearly getting herself expelled. I suppose it was worth it, though, in the end.
After finding out a secret of Felicity's, Gemma becomes her new best friend and is allowed to join her group. Instead, she uses her newfound social power to take Ann to a meeting in the caves on the Spence grounds, where Gemma shows the girls the diary of Mary Dowd, which she found in that very cave by following one of her visions, and the four of them become The Order. And eventually she is able to bring her friends into the Realms - where all dreams take place and anything is possible. This is where the story gets interesting, when we start to learn about the magic and the evil Circe who is after Gemma as she's the only one who can bring the Power back to the Realms.
Of course, I love Felicity, and the way she takes charge to get them in and out of trouble. Pippa, though a little vain, was also a really good character in an unfortunate situation. Ann just got on my nerves most of the time. You know my early feelings on Gemma, but I have to admit that near the end I did start to like her a bit. My favorite is still Felicity though. I also liked Mademoiselle LeFarge and Miss Moore, two of their teachers.
The plot of the story I think is very good. The characters are well thought out and have their flaws, and it's understandable why the girls would become friends - even if Gemma never seemed like she was truly enjoying their company until later on, when she said she loved all of them. Being fascinated by the nineteenth century, I loved learning about everything from speech, to the way girls dressed and were supposed to act in that time. Bray's descriptions were one thing that made this book so good. She puts so much detail into even the smallest of things, like the pomegranate that Sarita picks up at the beginning.
And finishing the book, and crying at a certain part in the thirty-eighth chapter (pages 395-396)that I will not spoil for all of you, I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel, Rebel Angels that I happen to have with me right now. So, my final virdict is that, if you can, definitely read this book. Gemma may be whiny, and things may not always turn out good, but it's certainly worth reading.
Quote of the Day:
"Once upon a time there were four girls. One was pretty. One was clever. One was charming. And one ... One was mysterious. But they were all damaged, you see. Bad blood. Big dreams. Oh, I left that part out. Sorry, that should have come before. They were all dreamers, these girls." - Felicity, pages 313-314
So, there you have it, the first review of March. Now, I have no idea what to go to next. I have three library books waiting to be read. So I've put a little poll in the sidebar. See it there, beneath my contact list? Good. Go vote. The poll ends at midnight tonight, because I needed to get reading right away.
I'm off to prepare for the Oscars. If you're watching tonight, comment and let me know who you want to win. =)