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On a Book Bender

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

in Review: Amanda

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
(Gemma Doyle, #1)

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Format: paperback from Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal
Read: 9/19/2012 — 9/20/2012
In Six Words: Teenage Amanda would’ve loved this book!


Libba Bray — Website | Livejournal | Twitter
Amazon — Paperback | Kindle
Add it to Goodreads

Book Order

1. A Great and Terrible Beauty
2. Rebel Angels
3. The Sweet Far Thing


It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life 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’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?
-from Goodreads

Why I Started Reading This Book and Final Verdict

Don’t let my in six words fool you: adult Amanda loved this book, too. (Also, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that it feels very weird describing myself as an adult, even though I’m 27 years old. When did this adult thing happen? Why hasn’t anyone told me?) Anyway. I first became interested in this book after finishing the audiobook of Beauty Queens and decided I needed more Libba Bray. Though A Great and Terrible Beauty is a very, VERY different book than Beauty Queens, I am still glad to have picked it up, and continue to want MOAR Libba Bray.

My Thoughts

A Great and Terrible Beauty is exactly the kind of book I loved as a teenager: history, intrigue, and just a wee bit of the spiritual/paranormal world. Well, and a dashing love interest, the angst of making friends, GIRL POWER, and little life lessons nestled underneath it all. While teen Amanda would likely have enjoyed this more than adult Amanda, the two of us agree that it was good and we want more because it is clear that Gemma’s story is far from over. (Also, there are two more books, so obviously we’re not done here.)

I am a complete and total sucker for heroines in historical books who fight the oppression of women in their times. I thrive on characters like Gemma, because I’ve always admired them and wanted to be like them. The fact that times were different mean little; there is still inequality and discrimination against women in today’s society, just buried deeper and with new names. Gemma isn’t exactly fighting it, but the seeds are present, and that is all I need.

The paranormal aspect of A Great and Terrible Beauty is probably my only real complaint. It was often slightly confusing (for Gemma, too) and though I think this was likely intended, I just wanted MOAR information. I will not apologize for my information whorish ways. But the realms and magic were intriguing, and I’d like to see where Libba Bray takes this trilogy. Gemma Doyle’s world has a lot of potential–for heartbreak, for world-altering consequences, for bucking traditions and learning how to find one’s own way in the world.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is a slow and creepy book, and it is my sincere hope that the trilogy continues to get better as we go.

About the author: Amanda, noun: 1. Creator of On a Book Bender and Bout of Books. 2. Editor at The Path of Least Revision. 3. Lover of language and books. 4. Drinker of wine, coffee, and vodka. 5. Idea wrangler and wielder of words.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Amy @ bookgoonie November 7, 2012, 6:17 am

    I’ve wondered about this series. I need to pick it up fot the The Kid

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender November 7, 2012, 8:16 am

      Yes! It’s a good historical fiction/paranormal. I would have loved this as a teen. :)

  • Rummanah November 7, 2012, 9:32 am

    I loved this series, but I have to say that I think the second book was my favorite followed by the heart breaking ending of book 3. I do think the twist with one of the characters really surprised me. SO glad you liked this one, Amanda! I love how this series fits in so many different genres.

  • Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook November 7, 2012, 11:38 am

    I recently read this one, and I wasn’t in love. I mean, I think it was well written (but the paranormal stuff was definitely a little confusing), and the characters were well-developed. I just didn’t really like any of them. I wanted to shout at Gemma when she started being friends with Felicity “You know she’s going to cause problems!” And I didn’t even really like Anne. I guess I liked Gemma the best, but I didn’t love her.

    That said, I’m listening to Beauty Queens now, and LOVE IT!

  • Melissa November 7, 2012, 1:47 pm

    I started reading this series after LOVING both Going Bovine and Beauty Queens. While I liked it, I agree that there were a few issues. I’ve read the second in the series and it’s also good, but still not OMG-great! Eventually I’ll pick up the third, but I’m in no hurry. Despite not loving this series, I’m still always excited for MOAR Libba Bray.

  • Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal November 7, 2012, 2:28 pm

    I think it was the confusion with the paranormal aspects that got me on this one. I liked the book to an extent but I never really connected with what they were experiencing because it was so confusing. Anywho. I am glad you enjoyed it and I hope the next one rocks your socks off!

  • SaraO@TheLibrarianReads November 7, 2012, 3:32 pm

    This series was my first experience with Bray. I think I’ve liked some of her other stuff better. But the series is very unique, very cool, very Bray. I hope you enjoy the rest…more information is coming!

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender November 7, 2012, 6:14 pm

      Good to know. I have the second book in this series, so I’ll read that. And I’ll definitely seek out her other books.

  • Kristilyn (Reading in Winter) November 7, 2012, 3:57 pm

    Yay! I liked this one, too, though it did seem younger than a lot of the YA reads that are out there. I do hope that the next books explain things a lot more … I do like more information in my reads, as well.

    I look forward to reading more in this series AND reading more Libba Bray! I’ve heard awesome things about the audio for Beauty Queens and will for sure be checking that out.

    I hope you like the rest of the series!

  • Smash Attack November 7, 2012, 4:42 pm

    Such an information whore, you are! You and Kristilyn really sparked my interest. I own the series and after reading BQ and Diviners, I definitely need to prioritize it. I, too, love women who fight for oppressive ways then and now. FIGHT THAT SHIT, yo.

  • Mary @ BookSwarm November 7, 2012, 5:09 pm

    Libba Bray rocks those stories so freakin’ hard. I really liked this one but the other two didn’t capture me like GaTB did.

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender November 7, 2012, 6:19 pm

      LIBBA BRAY! (There is so much Libba Bray love on this post, I love it.) I have the next one in my possession, so I’ll have to see how it goes for me. :)

  • Laura Ashlee November 7, 2012, 7:10 pm

    The paranormal element is a little complex the whole time, but it becomes clearer in the next books. This series only gets better. I was a little meh about it when I started but the world building is so great that I fell in love by the end. I hope you enjoy the rest of it.

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender November 7, 2012, 11:56 pm

      Yay! I’m glad to hear the series gets better. I don’t mind complex as long as complex =/= confusing. You know? It’s a fine line.

  • Felicia November 8, 2012, 7:43 am

    I love that adult Amanda and teenage Amanda could agree that they both loved it. Teenage Felicia argues with me all the time LOL

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender November 8, 2012, 8:32 am

      Ha! Teenage Amanda and adult Amanda don’t agree on everything (TA likes contemp romance a lot more than AA), but on this we do! :)

  • Jenny November 8, 2012, 9:23 am

    You know I’m a fellow information whore as well Amanda, so I know I’d be wanting more with the paranormal element as well. MORE DAMMIT! The Diviners was the first book of Libba’s I’ve read and I really enjoyed that one, so I think I need to pick up some of her backlist:)

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender November 8, 2012, 5:21 pm

      We should start an information whore club, Jenny. We can go around yelling, “MORE DAMMIT!” Though at least half those will probably refer to peens.

  • Sarah (saz101) November 11, 2012, 8:20 pm

    Oh my goodness. Amanda. The weird describing yourself as an adult? YES. I HAVE THIS PROBLEM, TOO. I can’t

    Everything about your review makes me WANT THIS BOOK. Interestingly enough, though, I think Teenage Sarah was a pickier reader. But the friendship and mystery and paranormal and GIRL POWER are all ticking the EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! boxes, *grins*

    OK. I AM going to read this. One day. Hopefully soon? Uh, also: I just got to do a Q&A with Libba Bray, so I’m even more excited because she’s kind of amazing and and and *grins more* *face hurts*

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender November 12, 2012, 10:09 am

      lol. Teenage Amanda would read just about anything handed to her. Historical fiction were a particular favorite. To date, I still have a soft spot for all things historical.

      Oh my glob! YOUR Q&A WITH LIBBA BRAY! I loved that. A lot. Everything I read of hers and read about her just makes me want to snap up all her books and read them.

  • Alicia August 3, 2013, 9:07 pm

    I absolutely loved this series, and this book is on my 6 favorite books of all time list. I also read Beauty Queens, and I agree, it is a VERY different sort of book, but I LOVED them all. Libba Bray is awesome.

    • Amanda @ On a Book Bender August 4, 2013, 8:56 am

      I listened to Beauty Queens and Libba Bray is one of my favorite NARRATORS too. She’s amazing. :)

      • Alicia August 5, 2013, 3:55 pm

        All right, you convinced me! I downloaded the audiobook and I’ll listen to it and review it shortly :D

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