Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Goodreads Summary: 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?
Goodreads Rating: 3.79 stars with over 186,000 ratings
Genre Listing: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Get the Book: AmazonBook Depository
Good Reads Challenge: 10/30
2018 Reading Challenge: #27, The first in a series you've wanted to start. Find the reading challenge here
Book Haul: Canadian Book Haul
My Other reviews of the Author: Lair of Dreams


I have wanted to read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray for so long. It's been on my shelf for about a year, and I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick it up. This is yet another one of her books that I could not put down. It was painful for me to not be able to read it whenever I wanted. Stupid grown-up responsibilities. About half-way through the book, I went ahead and ordered the other two books in the trilogy. The only reason I am not currently upset about having to wait to read the second book is that I started the second Outlander book.
I've already started recommending this book to others long before I finished it. The best and quickest way I can describe A Great and Terrible Beauty is "The Craft meets the Victorian era." Some of the similarities include four unlikely friends who either seek power/ have power. At some point, they use the magic on some of their tormentors. Said power goes to their head. I love the movie The Craft, and I love anything about the Victorian era, so this is a total win-win for me.
I really enjoy the wit and sarcasm in this story. It keeps it exciting and a little cheeky.  An example of this is on page 145, where the girls are reading a mysterious diary that Gemma found.
Felicity stops. "Oh, honestly, this is the worst attempt at a gothic novel I've ever read. all we're missing are creaking castle floors and a heroine in danger of losing her virtue." 
Pippa sits up giggling."Let's read on and find out if they do lose their virtue!" 

This line made me giggle a lot, and I took a picture of it and shared it with a couple of people so they could chuckle as well. The book is filled with lines like that, and it's not from just one character. I think a good chunk of the characters shows some humor like that.

I really adore Gemma as the main character. I thought that she showed a lot of depth and growth. She started out as a spoiled brat and quickly got slapped with reality when her mom died. Honestly, I can relate to that on an intensely personal level. My heart hurt while reading this because it made me think of losing my own mother and my journey with and without her. Aside from the whole special powers thing, she's probably one of the more relatable characters for me personally.

The fact that each of the girls had their own personalities was interesting. I feel like in a lot of books the leading group of friends' characters can get lost. In a Great and Terrible Beauty even though the main four friends were about as different as can be, they still shared a lot. They each had their own secrets, strengths, and insecurities. I was shocked that by the end it felt like they had grown into real friends, even though that is definitely not how it started.
I really don't have anything critical to say regarding this book. I loved it and couldn't get enough of it. Since I'm trying to do discussion questions with each post now, I'm going to use some of the ones in the back of the book. I'm doing this partly because I think they are great questions, but primarily because I'm sluggish and need to do some homework.

Discussion Questions:

1.) The Realms are a place where anything seems possible. Each of the four girls wants one thing above all else: Felicity desires power, Pippa seeks love, Ann wants beauty, and Gemma craves self-knowledge. Does any of the characters achieve her goal by the end of the story? Why or Why not? What would you want?
A.) I would definitely say that Pippa and Gemma get what they want, though not in the way they expect it. I think that Gemma finds out who she is and the events that have led up to her becoming that person by speaking with her mother. Sadly and painfully, Pippa does find love. I think by doing that she was able to make her own choice for the first time in her life, however sad that decision is. I'm trying to think of how Felicity and Ann achieved their goals outside of the realm, but I'm struggling.
I think that I would want success, it's not something I really feel I've achieved as of yet. 

2.) Gemma says of Felicity, "I don't know what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I'm beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It's not that they want to protect us; it's that they fear us" (p. 207). What kind of power is Gemma talking about? What is it that she thinks the parents and teachers and suitors fear?
A.) I think that she's speaking of being brave and fearless, and given the time, perhaps even it's the fear of a woman being headstrong and able to think for herself. Which on this note, I'm amending what I said in my previous answer of not being sure of when Felicity gained power. Because in this sense, she definitely had it and it'd be a terrifying thing for a woman to have in the 1800s when this book takes place.

3.) "It's a dream, only a dream," Gemma thinks of her sexually charged encounter with Kartik (p. 219). Why do you think Gemma stops the fantasy when she does? Why do you think the author chose to make this scene a dream rather than a reality? Do you believe this makes Gemma's experience any less "real" to her?
A.) I think that this being shown as a dream instead of reality hints towards Gemma being young and naive. Gemma lives in a time where girls are to remain "pure" until they are married. To show it otherwise would make it taboo for the time period that A Great and Terrible Beauty is set in. By making it a dream, it gives Gemma a sense of curiosity about sexual encounters but doesn't ruin her in Victorian Society's point of view. 

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