A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
My rating: 4.5/5
Summary (from Goodreads): 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.
Starting from the very first page, and going past the last, A Great And Terrible Beauty completely swept me away. I'm not usually into books set in the 19th century, but this is definitely an exception.
This book was set in Spence Academy, a finishing school for girls in England. Gemma Doyle is one of the girls sent there after her mother dies in India. Gemma wasn't my favourite character, for sure. She was whiny and selfish, or at least it seemed that way. Apart from that, she was pretty good, because she had life, reality, to her. All of her emotions were very realistic, and I can easily see her being a person, well, at least back in the 1800s. Felicity seemed a little snobbish at first, but I saw the other side to her eventually. I could see that she was actually against Cecily (the real popular, snob, not Felicity). So, in the end, I was pretty okay with her. I only liked Ann for one reason; I felt kind of bad for her. She was the only girl at Spence Academy who didn't have money, or a family. She was sent there from a scholarship. She wouldn't have gone there otherwise, because she was an orphan. I never liked Pippa. She was Felicity's closest friend, but I have to say that, personally, I think she was worse than Gemma, honestly. She was a little too rich and sweet for my taste. She seemed to suck up to people a lot.
When Felicity invited Gemma to join her little clique, my first thought was that Gemma would never join. She seemed too. . . I don't know what, but she just didn't seem like someone who would get along with people like Felicity or Pippa.
I loved the setting; it was probably one of my favourite things about the book. Spence Academy, although it was really just a school, didn't appear to be one. It was too classy to ever be anything like a school, even if it was a finishing school. It seemed like a place that I might want to go if I had lived in the 1800s, no matter how perfect I would have to be, or how mean the teachers were. But I really loved the realms. The magic that filled them was so real, so lifelike I could almost feel it. I loved the creatures that lurked, while Gemma and her friends were completely unaware. The plot brought me right to the climax, which was a point where I couldn't put down the book. The only complaint that I ever had about the realms was that I never bought Gemma's mom actually being there for even a second.
I loved A Great and Terrible Beauty, and when I finished, I couldn't wait to read the next in the series, Rebel Angels.