Book 1: Great and Terrible Beauty
“A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy–jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.
Gemma, 16, has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left wi! th the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy. (Ages 12 up) –Patty Campbell –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Book 2: Rebel Angels
“In this sequel to the Victorian fantasy A Great and Terrible Beauty, Gemma continues to pursue her role as the one destined to bind the magic of the Realms and restore it to the Order–a mysterious group who have been overthrown by a rebellion. Gemma, Felicity and Ann, (her girlfriends at Spence Academy for Young Ladies), use magical power to transport themselves on visits from their corseted world to the visionary country of the Realms, with its strange beauty and menace. There they search for the lost Temple, the key to Gemma’s mission, and comfort Pippa, their friend who has been left behind in the Realms. After these visits they bring back magical power for a short time to use in their own world. Meanwhile, Gemma is torn between her attraction to the exotic Kartik, the messenger from the opposing forces of the Rakshana, and the handsome but clueless Simon, a young man of good family who is courting her. The complicated plot thickens when Gemma discovers a woman in Bedlam madhouse who knows where to find the Temple; Ann shows signs of being enamored of Gemma’s loutish brother Tom, and their father’s addiction to laudanum lands him in an opium den. A large part of the enjoyment of this unusual fantasy comes from the Victorian milieu and its restrictive rules about the behavior of proper young ladies, as contrasted with the unimaginable possibilities of the Realms, where Gemma has power to confront gorgons and ghosts and the responsibility to save a world. (Ages 12 and up) –Patty Campbell –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.”
Book 3: The Far Sweet Thing
The Publisher’s Weekly Review-
“The concluding volume in the trilogy begun in A Great and Terrible Beautyis a huge work of massive ambition, an undertaking that involves the plaiting and tying off a dozen plot threads-impending war in the realms and heroine Gemma Doyle’s control of its magic being the central thread but, perhaps, not the most interesting. In chronicling Gemma’s first year at Spence Academy, Bray has, over three books, widened her canvas from finishing school to fin-de-siècle London, weaving in the defining movements of the era-labor strikes over factory conditions, suffrage, the “radical” Impressionists just across the Channel, even fashion trends like bloomers for women daring enough to ride bicycles. Gemma is both buffeted and bolstered by her exposure to these developments, and readers experience how they shape her burgeoning understanding of who she is and who she may become. Some of Gemma’s struggle is about power. As exalted as she is within the realms for her role as High Priestess of the secret society, her “otherness” marks her as unsuitable for proper Victorian circles. Gemma chafes not only at the physical constraints of a corset but at the myriad restrictions placed on women. Her quest is to break free, but at what cost? Bray poses these vital questions without sacrificing the gothic undertones of the previous volumes-the body count is high, and the deaths, gruesome. That creepiness is balanced by the fully realized company of players, including the insufferable headmistress, Mrs. Nightwing, the acid-tongued Felicity Worthington, hunky heartthrob Kartik and, of course, Gemma herself, a heroine readily embraced. Ages 14-up. (Dec.)
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So, again, this review has come a little while after I’d read the books so I will review the lasting impression that I have kept from this series.
I fell in love with the main characters! One of my biggest pet peeves about current literature that is targeted at young women is that the female leads are a little wussy and whiny. Gemma Doyle is a budding suffragette and Libba Bray points out all of the historical hypocrisies of Victorian England while also adding an element of reality to the situations. Not the parallel world stuff, but the idea of showing the world through an outsider was ingenious. We got to follow Gemma as she came to fully understand that the world isn’t fair, but that you cannot immediately change reality without suffering the consequences.
There are true tragedies for the girls in this story and they are personal, social, and meaningful and I cannot tell you how much I enjoy that. All-in-all, I can’t add much to the professional reviews aside from a huge two thumbs up. This is a great light read for adults and a wonderful story with real meaning for young adults.