A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible BeautyA Great and Terrible Beauty

By: Libba Bray



403 pages (Hardcover)

Sixteen year old Gemma Doyle discovers her own magical abilities after the mysterious death of her mother.

*   *   *

Boy was this book disappointing! I’m really surprised at just how bad it was. Maybe that was too harsh? I hate writing reviews about books I didn’t like. I wish I loved every single thing that I read, but I suppose I can’t like everything.

I picked up book three in this trilogy at the last book sale. The cover was so pretty I couldn’t resist, plus what’s not to like about Victorian boarding schools and magical powers? Sure it’s a young adult novel, but it can’t be that bad…right?

The biggest problem with this novel, in my opinion, is that it could have used some serious fleshing out. The basic outline of something good is there, but the author didn’t really fill in the details. For example, the secret order of women with the ability to use magic is just known as “The Order”. Really? That’s a bit generic, and since this order seems to have only female members, why not a sisterhood of something at least. Gemma is instructed not to use her magic, but never given any reason why, so naturally she uses it anyway. There are realms, but we only see two of them, and their existence isn’t really explained. Are there more of them? Why are they important? There are no rules to the magic, obtaining it only requires touching a crystal, and there are no real consequences, until the very end, that is, when they pile on all at once.

The characters in this book are mostly horrible, bratty children. At first I thought that Gemma befriending the mean girls was an interesting twist, that she would defeat them from the inside, but instead she essentially becomes one of them, while still largely opposing what they do. She never chooses a side and most of her actions don’t seem to have any real substance behind them. Then we are expected to believe that these people are her closest friends sharing a deep bond, but in reality, everyone was only pursuing their own selfish ends.

That brings me to Kartik. Involving a handsome and mysterious Indian boy in all of this is really a no-brainer given this is YA historical fantasy, but he’s just so awful. He stalks and threatens Gemma, telling her not to use her abilities without giving any reason, and in spite of this she’s rather obsessed with him. What makes it worse, is a lot of the story focuses on how sexist Victorian society was and how these poor girls would just be married off to the first suitable husband their parents could dig up. Gemma thinks that’s horrible, but she’s going to chase after a guy who stalks and threatens her?

Between her mean-girl friends and her slightly disturbing interest in Kartik, this story provides a horrible example of what relationships can be, glorifying the most superficial aspects of both friendship and romantic relationships. I really wish these novels would stray from the blueprint Twilight created, and instead, entertain young adults with stories of deep friendship and loyalty, not the mysterious, but abusive, hot guy. Just because he’s hot, doesn’t make it ok.

And to top it all off, it took the main character so much time to come to basic realizations. When she noticed that the class photo of the year the mysterious fire happened was missing, it took her nearly the entire book to check behind the photo of the previous year to find it. A lot of the supposedly interesting plot points were extremely predictable and cliche. However, there was a bit of a twist at the end that was a little interesting, but it was really far too little too late.

The only thing I can’t complain about is the writing, that part of the story was perfectly fine. I just wish the author had taken more time in crafting the story behind it. Maybe I’m just too old for a book like this, maybe I’m being too critical, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’m usually pretty forgiving, especially if I really want to like the book. A lot of people really love this series (almost 4 stars on goodreads), and they’re even planning on making it into a movie, just like every other moderately successful YA series these days. I wish I could have liked it, but I just can’t get over how disappointing it was. Until next time…

Happy Reading!


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