Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jenn's Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Summary: 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 with 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. –Patty Campbell, Amazon.com

Review: I've read this book twice – the first reading was a few months ago and I was afraid I wouldn't do it justice in a review. I also figured I'd give it a second chance as I was far from keen on it the first time through. I like it better this reading than the first reading, but I've also come to realize what bothers me about Libba Bray's writing style: it lacks a certain fluidity. She has a tendency to use periods in place of commas, especially when she is in a lengthy description. YA books should be exemplary prose, and I don't feel this is the case here; and it made for choppy reading. Bray's first person voice in the novel switches back and forth from a journaling style to a story telling style and it was noticeable to me and therefore disruptive while reading.

I also have issues with how modern the characters seem to be in a novel set in the late 1800s... especially when Bray goes to such lengths to keep the story historically anchored. (She takes a huge amount of the book with the plot exposition and laying the foundation, maybe too much). Perhaps this is an attempt to make it interesting to Young Adults, but to me it feels like over simplification. As readers, if they are mature enough to find an historical novel interesting, they are intelligent enough for historically accurate characters. I wish she had chosen modern or historical, as modernizing history sacrificed her story, in my eyes.

I'm also not sure what happened in the climax. I've not only read the book twice, but I've reread that particular passage several times and I'm still not sure what happens or, more importantly, why it happens. I will continue reading this trilogy as I'm curious to see where her writing style and plot are headed, but I can't say that I am recommending that you do the same...



Anonymous ,  February 26, 2008 at 12:35 PM  

I read this book while on vacation last year and finished it because I felt like I had too (having gotten quite far into it). I didn't really care for it in the end and haven't read any of the other books in the series.

heather (errantdreams) February 26, 2008 at 1:35 PM  

This sounds like a fascinating concept that's somewhat poorly executed. I'm always far more disappointed by that than by books that are simply bad, because I hate to see wasted potential!

Julie February 26, 2008 at 2:36 PM  

YAY!! Jenn is back!! I read this a while ago and liked it but I'm not a YA reader and took it for what it was. I have the 2nd one Rebel Angels yet to read.

Jeane February 26, 2008 at 10:29 PM  

I just got this book from the library and want to read it with fresh eyes, so I didn't read your entire review and will come back when I finish it!

Jenn February 27, 2008 at 9:02 AM  

Great, Jeane. Let me know what you think!

Em March 3, 2008 at 12:06 AM  

I liked The Sweet Far Thing the best in the series. Kick-butt girls are my kind of reading. :)

tinylittlelibrarian March 3, 2008 at 3:53 PM  

Glad I'm not the only one who wasn't sure what was up with the climax! :) Great review, you make some really good points.

Jeane March 6, 2008 at 10:02 AM  

Well, I tried but I couldn't get past 40 pages. Maybe I'll try it again later when I'm in a different mind-frame.

Unknown February 9, 2009 at 5:07 PM  

This series is really GOOD! It starts off extremely slow, but it builds up, trust me it does. When I first started reading it, I had to put it down a few times, but I continued and I'm so glad I did. The ending will make you quite sad. :(

Read the series!!

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