It’s 1895 and, after the death of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped from the 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 finds he reception a chilly one. She’s not completely alone, though… she’s being followed by a mysterious young man, sent to warn her to close her mind against the visions.
It’s at Spence that Gemma’s power to attract the supernatural unfolds as she becomes entangled with the school’s most powerful girls and discovers her mother’s connection to a shadowy, timeless group called The Order. Her destiny awaits… if only Gemma can believe in it.
“Because you don’t notice the light without a bit of shadow. Everything has both dark and light. You have to play with it till you get it exactly right.”
I bought this book – along with others – a while ago now, as a little gift to myself for my blogiversary. On many occasions I have mentioned my eagerness to get involved with the Libba Bray-sphere, and start reading her novels. Frankly, all of her novels intrigue me, and the vast majority are on my TBR. Thus, on my bloggiversary, I invested in 2 of Libba Bray’s most read books: The Diviners, and A Great and Terrible Beauty. I then blindly chose which to read first, and it happened to be this one, A Great and Terrible Beauty.
Already you may be able to guess from my 3/5 star rating that I wasn’t exactly blown away by this book. In actuality, I was disappointed, let down once again by the hype surrounding it.
It isn’t even that this book was bad – just not as good as I had hoped.
The book opens in India, and we’re instantly transported to another time, another country, another set of rules. I loved learning about India through Gemma’s – our protagonist – eyes: how she loved it, how she hated it, how she grew up wishing for normality as opposed to an exotic adolescence. It was exceedingly exciting, also, because this was India in the 1800s, a setting I’ve never read about before. In my opinion, this section of the book was exciting and intruging, and – ultimately – ended too soon.
Once Gemma arrived in England, my excitement began to melt away, and was replaced by contentment. Yes, I was fine reading the book, and yes, it was interesting now and again. But there wasn’t anything really exciting happening, nothing fuelling me forward, coaxing me to read into the early hours of the morning.
This book ended up taking me quite a while to read simply because it wasn’t dynamic enough – not enough happened at all.
I wanted to be engaged, and I wanted to fall in love with what had the potential to be an amazing book.
But I just couldn’t.
In my opinion, this book’s main downfall was the characterisation, or lack thereof. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference between the majority of these girls, because they were all so similar, all had the same, cookie-cutter motivations. I wanted to see so much more diversity – this book did begin in India, after all – but no such luck.
I am definitely the kind of reader who favours character-driven novels. I think it is this lack of investment in characters on my part that lead me to being disinterested in the book as a whole.
That being said, this book did have so favourable features: I loved that it was historical fiction, and I loved learning about the setting I was thrown into; I really enjoyed the supernatural elements, though – at times – it was a little tedious; this book began to delve into some darker, more resonating, and more important themes.
Overall, whilst this book was good, it wasn’t great. At least not in my opinion. Thus I awarded this novel 3/5 stars, and will unlikely be continuing with the series.
If you enjoyed _____, you’ll love A Great and Terrible Beauty!