Monday, May 19, 2008


Publisher Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray. Reviewed for Random House. For more information on this title, see here.

(about publisher reviews on kittenpie reads)

Though largely set in Victorian England, this book open with Gemma chafing to leave her home in India and go to London. She is now 16, after all. Her journey to England is set in motion when a strange vision comes over her, and she sees her mother kill herself rather than be claimed by some mysterious creature while in the company of an unknown man. This shadow cast over her family, she is to go off to finishing school at Spence to be made marriageable. This is not quite what happens there, however.

Instead, Gemma learns more about the strange amulet her mother gave her, and about the visions she continues to have.It turns out that she is a conduit to another place, a centrepoint of the next generation of a group of women known as the Order who can access this land and the magic therein. It isn't all as beautiful as it looks, though, because there is a dark side, and someone known as Circe wants control.

As she learns more about the past from a diary, it seems that it is a hunger for power that caused things to go astray when the last generation of girls entered this other land, the Realms, and that they had been sealed to prevent Circe from crossing into our world. Which means that there is current danger of repeating history or allowing Circe to manipulate one of the girls in Gemma's circle by opening the portal again.

The ending does wrap things up fairly nicely, though there are sequels, which I appreciate. I don't love to be left hanging! I am curious about the sequels, though.

Although a substantial read at over 400 pages, the book moves along fairly quickly and drew me in enough that I read it in a few days, even as a slower reader. I loved the language in many places, and enjoyed that while it has a Victorian setting and some Victorian conventions, it moved faster than your average Victorian novel, and had enough rebellious sentiments among the girls to appeal to a modern girl's sensibility, particularly in the slightly naughty pranks and the horror at Pippa's being forced into a marriage with a much older and quite unappealing man.

All in all, I'm not surprised that this has been a big hit. It had a long holds list at the library for some time, and was much-requested in-branch, with lots of girls wanting to read it. It was one with great media push at the outset, as well, but unlike some books, I think this one has substance behind all of that. It's a great read for a teen girls, with its gothic and fantasy elements being well-handled, but not the whole story, and the characters being very strong and relateable.

Now off to reserve the next one in the set...

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