A Great and Terrible Beauty

Libba Bray
A Great and Terrible Beauty Cover

A Great and Terrible Beauty


There are so many books geared towards young adults that have well drawn characters and compelling storylines, I don't know why anyone would waste time reading this one. The plot had potential. A young girl in India witnesses her mother's death under disturbing circumstances then is brought to England to attend a girl's school and move on with a more normal life. She begins having unsettling visions and realizes she has been followed from India by a mysterious young man. Meanwhile she has to find her way in her new surroundings, learning to navigate the world and relationships of (mostly) rich and privileged teenage girls, as well as the social rules of upper class Victorian England. Ultimately, the book did not live up the promise of the book jacket.

Our main character, Gemma, starts as an outsider as the school but over a very short period of time becomes part of the in-group, led by a pair of stereotypical mean girls. It was hard to figure out exactly why they let her into their exclusive group so quickly, but then it was hard to tell the two mean girls apart for much of the book, despite the fact that their physical descriptions were very different. The overall development of the girls' friendship just didn't draw me in, and I didn't feel a connection to any of the girls, despite their sad back stories. The adult characters for the most part are caricatures as are the interactions the main girls have with them.

The setting of the book, Victorian England, could have played distinct role in the story, contrasting rigid social structure against our rebellious heroine and the tumultuous forces affecting her life. However the book feels as if it could have been set at any point in time over the past couple centuries since so little signifying the ostensible era penetrates to the storyline.

The first three-fourths of the book mostly focus on the girls' developing friendship and slowly, very slowly, exploring some of the mysteries that surround the main character. However, things don't really start happening until about three-fourths of the way through the book by which point I pretty much didn't care anymore what happened to the characters nor about the mysterious plot that had been hinted at for so long. The only reason I finished the book was for the WoGF challenge. This book is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to trading in my copy at my local used bookstore and purchasing something completely different.