Summary: A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy–jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.
Source: I purchased a paperback at a used bookstore
I loved the author’s YA novel set in the 1920’s that dealt with the occult, The Diviners, but it seems to be taking forever for the next installment to come out. When I saw A Great and Terrible Beauty at the used bookstore, I knew I had to have it. I love the author’s writing and the unique characters she creates in her novels.
A Great and Terrible Beauty was interesting. Gemma was placed in a boarding school after her mother’s death in India. Strange things were happening to her and she was trying to make sense of it all. The boarding school was full of answers, strangely enough.
The Victorian era is one that is completely suffocating for women and I almost always hate reading books set in that time period. However, I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. I loved how the small group of girls Gemma befriended were different in many ways and all hoped for more than life could give them. I don’t know that I could have read a book where the girls all wanted to be married off and obedient. I think the time period worked quite well for the book, as the girls longed to be more without constraints, which is what made the realms and the story of Mary Dowd even more appealing and enticing. The power and magic of the realms was intriguing to girls who were unable to be themselves in real life.
There were a lot of twists and turns, making the novel enjoyable, mysterious, and quite unpredictable. I will definitely continue the trilogy and I recommend the first book to any fans of the supernatural, YA, and historical fiction.