Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

13 Oct

Series: Gemma Doyle, book #1

Published: July 4th 2005 by Simon & Schuster Childrens Books

Details: Hardcover, 403 pages

My Rating: 2/5

My Summary:

About Gemma, who after her mothers death is sent to a boarding school in Victorian England, where she befriends a group of girls with whom she starts a secret club and uses forbidden magic to enter a magical world. For me it lacked in characterization, none of the characters were likable, and so I didn’t care about the book. Possibly ok for teens.

A few chapters in:

Harry Potter for girls. That’s how some people have described this book. I have also heard it’s very young adult – as in – you may need to actually be in your teens to appreciate this book. In short, I’ve heard a lot of various opinions of this series, some less flattering than others. But seeing as it’s recommended by a huge amount of people, and seeming similar to Harry Potter (which I loved), I thought I might as well check it out.

I am now 100 pages in, and I’m stricken by how similar this is to Immortal (note that Libba Bray published a few years previous to Immortal). We have a grief-stricken girl, arriving at a haunting, old private school, not getting the warmest welcome. The click of popular girls treat her badly, and her only friend so far is her room-mate who is a plain and ordinary girl, also poor and an outcast as she was sent there on a scholarship. There is a necklace, passed on from the dead (or sick) family member, which seems to hold secrets in regards to the heroine’s hidden powers. There is also a diary, written by someone else entirely, who experienced the same confusing powers as the heroine, but years previously. Oh, and there are visions as well, and strange dreams. And not to forget, a dark mysterious boy who lingers in the area, watching our heroine, but with unknown intentions.

Did I miss anything? That’s as far as I’ve got, but the premise really does share some striking similarities with Immortal, just saying.

Am I liking it so far? Sort of. I’m not completely captured, possibly because it got me bored reading the same story yet again. I also understand reviewers saying it’s aimed towards young adult only. It feels as if I may be too old for the target audience here. That being said, it’s well written, and I have a feeling it might get better. Let’s see what happens..

After finishing the book:

So what can I say? I wasn’t captured in the beginning and I’m sorry to say it stayed that way throughout the novel.

As I said earlier, Gemma the protagonist is sent to a boarding school in England after her mother’s death. There, she befriends three other girls and they form a secret club, first as a joke but as Gemma’s powers are revealed, it grows into something far more serious and eventually spirals out of control.

So why did it not capture me? I have one word for that: characterization. I didn’t care one bit for Gemma or neither one her three friends. They were immature, stupid and irresponsible, all of which I could have forgiven them in the beginning seeing as they were only teenagers. But there is no growth! Gemma keeps trusting these girls, and I can’t for one understand why, seeing as how they behave in various situations in the book (torturing an animal and having their best teacher at school fired among other things). Gemma might be a nice girl but she is too weak. She seems to know right from wrong, but keeps making stupid decisions anyway due to peer pressure (basically whenever the other girls whine).

It’s hard to care about the book when you are not invested into neither one of the main characters. I’m all for rounded characters portraying both good and bad traits, but these girls seemed to portray flaws exclusively. I would have loved for these four girls to eventually bond and care  for each other as in a true friendship. That never realized though as they were all too absorbed into their own personal goals to truly care about one another.

There is also a weird sort of romance in the book, made up almost entirely by sensual dreams. I’m not sure of why Gemma starts dreaming about Kartrik, seeing as they don’t share one single good moment together. He’s basically threatening her or being plain rude every time they meet. There is also not much of an explanation to why Kartrik made the effort to follow Gemma from India, and incorporate himself into a Gipsy community in her proximity, just to be able to watch her and advise her not to do magic. It seemed a bit too far-fetched to me, but sure, maybe there are explanations in the following two books, what do I know?

The ending fell flat as well. I don’t even think I fully comprehended it. Why was the villain suddenly defeated? What happened? There was a lot of rushing and swivelling and then suddenly Gemma got away. Or maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, because to be honest, at that point I had all but given up on the book.

The Bottom Line:

All this being said, and to Bray’s defence, I may be too old for the target audience. Or rather, I know for a fact that I am. If I had read this book at say, the age of 14, chances are I would have loved it. But as it was now, at the age of 32, this book did not deliver. I won’t continue the series.

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9 Responses to “Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray”

  1. jenika April 12, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    I agree… I didn’t like this book either… From the plot and title and cover it made me curious but it left me quite disappointed…

    • tess April 12, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

      Hi Jenika!
      That’s good to hear you thought the same! I was actually a bit surprised that I didn’t like this one, as som many people were raving about it (people who like me loved Twilight and Harry Potter). Also, the title and cover did lure me in as well..

  2. Morgan May 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    I love this book I read it 7 times already. It is a great book.

    • tess May 22, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

      Hi Morgan,
      I guess we have different tastes in books then 🙂 I know many people love this series, but it was just lacking for me.. unfortunately, because I wanted to like it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      Tess

  3. Anonymous September 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    I agree everybody has different tastes.
    The book was a big disappointment, it started quite interesting but it became veeeeery boring (especially because as you wrote there was no growth of the characters in any way).
    The halo of mystery that caught me at the beginning faded quite soon after I couldn’t understand certain behavior of the characters…
    😦
    A bad read.

    • tess September 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

      Yes lots of people seem to love this series, so obviously all have different tastes. Good to hear you thought the same here, the characters were definitely the problem for me!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Review: Old Magic by Marianne Curley « After Twilight… - December 10, 2010

    […] finishing this book, I had a similar feeling to when I finished A Great and Terribly Beauty by Libba Bray. That the writing was good, but the story failed to pull me in, and in both cases I […]

  2. Review: Immortal by Gillian Shields « After Twilight… - August 15, 2011

    […] you want to read a similar book, but better accomplished in terms of writing, read “A Great and Terrible Beauty” by Libba Bray. But whatever you do, don’t waste your time on this one. There are so many much better books […]

  3. Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins « After Twilight… - October 10, 2011

    […] remember saying in my review of A Great and Terrible Beauty that it was described as a Harry Potter for […]

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