A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libby Bray

Amazon Synopsis: It's 1895, and after the death 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 being 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?

Bought this for cheap at a used book sale and could not believe my luck. For a while now people have been telling me good things about this series. As I like historical fiction and it was nearing Halloween it seemed like fate had decided to put this Gothic book in my path. Three days later, I cursed the stupid fates...

WARNING: Spoilers will most likely pop up so read at your own peril

This novel series follows Gemma Doyle, an English girl who grew up in India with her mother, father and brother.  In the first chapter of this book, Gemma faces a terrible tragedy when her mother is killed when they visit a market. This should have been an emotional scene but all I could focus on was how annoying Gemma was. After only 3 paragraphs Gemma had whined about everything under the sun and more. When reading the synopsis on the back of my paperback I was intrigued by the chance to read about a character who faces tragedy and goes against societies rules in the midst of it. Instead, Gemma was a moaning teenager who needed shaking. 

After the death of her mother, Gemma goes to England with her father to reunite with her brother, Tom, and Grandmother. As her father is now a drug addict, her grandmother sends Gemma to Spence school. Here they turn young ladies into marrying material. From what I had heard from other people and the synopsis, I was expecting Gemma to rebel against the school before finding out she has kick ass powers. She did neither of these things. As the main character begins to have more 'visions' things get interesting. Then she figures out that she can transport herself, and others, to a mystical world where the dead people can just roam about. This killed all scary factor. This world was laughable and a bit weird. As the novel progresses though, the world has a negative effect on the characters leading them to be meaner, break into gypsy camps and get naked a lot for odd reasons.

The gypsy characters were probably the best in this novel though. Madame Elena actually broke my heart when you find out her back story. She is a much more subtle character which I really liked and she was one of the only characters I actually cared about. The love interest, Kartik, is also part of this gypsy group that live on the borders of Spence but he followed her from India. I call him the love interest but he seems not to care a smidge about Gemma. I don't blame him, all she does is moan and be annoying. None of her awkward sex dreams about him can change that. 

Don't worry, you read that right. This YA book has attempted some erotic happenings as girls who are in a sexually repressed society explore themselves. Unfortunately, these scenes just made me laugh out loud. With a failed attempt at a kind of lesbian romance and the only overt romance being the courting of Pippa by 50-year-old Mr Bumble.

The mystery in this novel was basically non-existent as well with the majority of this book focusing on the odd friendship of 4 girls who don't actually seem to like each other that much. When it finally does seem to pick up, the majority of the action takes place in the other world where everyone seems to like to quote Tennyson's Lady of Shallot to describe it. This is not a good thing! Tennyson's poems may be long and they may be hated by students who are forced to study them but God dammit it was not OK to add it here!

I think I would have liked this book more it Gemma had been funnier, the world less unicorn shelter and the characters less like flies you want to swat away. Give me more Kartik in the sequel and make Gemma more like a human being and we may have hope for this series yet.

Rating: 2.8/5


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