A Great and Terrible Beauty', by Libba Bray

January 30, 2009
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'A Great and Terrible Beauty', written by Libba Bray, takes place in the Victorian age of the late 1800's. Sixteen year-old Gemma Doyle, raised in colonial India, longs for the fashionable social scene and cool weather back in her native England. Ironically, her wish comes true when her mother is murdered following a vision in which Gemma foresaw the entire event. Sent back to London, she is unwillingly enrolled at Spence Academy, a prestigious finishing school for young women. There, she befriends three other girls- Felicity, Pippa, and Ann, and soon becomes part of a dangerous clique.

Bored with the strict teachings and repetitive etiquette lessons she endures there, Gemma seeks the independence, power, and self-knowledge she knows proper ladies of the time never get a chance to pursue. She struggles as her visions continue, and is haunted constantly my her mother's spirit. When her visions lead her to a mysterious diary, Gemma and her three friends begin investigating the final days of Mary Dowd and Sarah Rees-Toome, two girls tragically killed in a fire at Spence twenty years before. More eerie still, Gemma learn's of her mothers shadowy connection to the two girls and her involvement in a supernatural group called The Order. This prompts her to discover her own power to travel to The Realms, an alternate world of departed souls and dark magic. It is there that Gemma is reunited with her mother and begins to learn about the epic history of her family as well as her own powers.

This book provided a alluring portrayal of the 1800's, a time when social appearances meant more than giving the real truth. It showed the role of women in that time- as they were expected to be hightly mannered, graceful, and submissive towards their husbands at all times, as compared to today's free-thinking, independent women. Although it was not necessarily historically accurate, the novel's theme showed that anything is possible even under bad circumstances. However, the ending was slightly strange, as it ended with Pippa's death and Gemma never quite solved her problems. Overall, it was a very good book, and would be recommended to anyone who enjoys drama, romance, and fiction as well as books that take place in older times.

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