Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1) by Libba Bray

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.

Gemma, 16, 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.
Thank you Abby, for recommending this series to me!  I really enjoyed this book.  It reminded me a lot of Michelle Zink's Prophecy of the Sisters.  Actually, I guess I should say Prophecy of the Sisters reminded me of A Great and Terrible Beauty since Libba Bray's book was published first.

Gemma has spent most of her life living in India and dreams of going to school in London and being presented to society.  She has a vision of her mother's death, which comes true, and is sent to boarding school at Spence Academy.  There, she has more visions and that's when the story really takes off.  Libba Bray drew me in with the first sentence and I had a really hard time putting this book down.

This book has it all: a heroine finding her way in life, a boarding school (I just love books about boarding schools), hints of a forbidden romance, mystery, and a plot twist at the end that left me shocked.  It's not too often that a book surprises me, so I really relish it when it happens.

I would recommend A Great and Terrible Beauty to fans of historical fiction, YA and fantasy.  It was a very strong start to what I suspect will be an outstanding series!  One question: Am I the only one who got the near-irresistible urge to watch Anne of Avonlea when reading the Lady of Shalott poem at the beginning of the book?

Just One Gripe: 
With any first-in-a-series novel, there is a good bit of world-building at the beginning, which makes the book feel a little slow to really take off.

The Best Thing About This Book: 
The twist at the end.

Appropriate for a younger audience: 
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Setting/Imagery: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Ending: 4/5
Total Score:  21/25


  1. I love the sound of this. I've actually been meaning to read this one for ages, but I still haven't gotten around to it. I'm trying to stop myself from starting yet another series of books, but I think I might have to invest in this one!

  2. I loved this series, mainly because I loved the historical time period. The Gemma Doyle series has fantasy, romance, and historical fiction all blended in. I think my favorite book is the second one, Rebel Angels, but they are all great. Kartik is awesome too!

  3. I love this series! This review makes me want to reread all the books. I wish Libba Bray would write another series. I'm glad you enjoyed Great and Terrible Beauty! :)

  4. Fab review. I remember really liking this story. Especially the way it started.

    Thanks for Sharing

    Bonafide Blogger

  6. I agree this one was a bit slow at times. Overall, this series was just okay to me. They are well written, but I never fully invested in the characters. The last one was my favorite, but there were even parts of that one that I didnt like.

  7. Great review! I'm thinking of adding this in my wishlist.

    Btw, thanks for hopping by my blog - just another blogger (

    if you have time, come visit my blog about books at

    Have a great blogging day!

  8. I am so relieved you liked it! I was kinda nervous recommending a book to you for fear that you would think I was stupid if you hated it! ;) Although, it is Natalie that's the big time book snob!

  9. I started this one but couldn't get into it-- maybe I was in the wrong mood- your review def makes me want to try again.

    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  10. I loved this book, I enjoyed the gothic mansion setting and the cool, innovative idea. It was a really long book though, some scenes were a tad too drawn out and detailed.


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