Book Review: “A Great and Terrible Beauty”

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

Genre: Young Adult Fiction. Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Source: Gift

Summary from Goodreads:

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?


Boarding schools are always interesting. I really liked the idea of a boarding school ‘teaching’ the girls how to be proper ladies and wives. It’s fascinating because it’s so different from our culture today. It’s also incredibly sad because the girls weren’t expected to do much, just to behave well. If they couldn’t marry a good man with money, all hope was lost.

Characters were nicely developed. Initially they seemed shallow and you thought you knew what the author would do with them. It’s a nice surprise that they’re pretty deep. Felicity wants power, Pippa wants true love, and Ann wants beauty. Those seem like shallow aspirations but when as you get to know the girls, you truly understand how important those things are. Gemma was likeable enough. I always appreciate girls who don’t fall in line with what society wants. I loved her sarcasm and spunkiness even though it seemed out of place for the time period.

Great atmosphere. Loved the setting. I thought the book was going to be primarily historical fiction with some mystery in it. The fantasy/paranormally elements took me by surprise. Once I got used to it, it was very enjoyable. It was still a bit weirdly placed but it didn’t bother me too much.

The bottom line? Surprisingly enjoyable. I’ll most likely grab book 2 at some point.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: “A Great and Terrible Beauty”

  1. Interesting! One of my friends picked this one up a long time ago and I still don’t know if she actually finished it… But great to hear what it’s actually about. Boarding schools always remind me of A Little Princess which was one of my favorite movies (yes, movies – I didn’t know about the book) when I was a kid so that actually makes me more inclined to pick it up. Thanks for the review!

  2. This series is pretty fantastic. I absolutely loved Gemma and her comrades, Felicity especially. The series is chock full of paranormally stuff and towards the end… well let’s just say the paranormally stuff hits the fan! Hope you get to read the others in the series!

  3. I read this one back when I was in high school and was kind of ambivalent about it. I thought the premise was interesting, but the dynamic between the girls bothered me at the time, and I don’t even remember why. I’m excited to read The Diviners though; I’d definitely like to give Libba Bray’s work a second look.

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