Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible BeautyTitle: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Published: 2003
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 403
From: Barnes and Noble
Rating: 9/10

Lately, I’ve been in the mood for literature that doesn’t require very much thinking. Novels like that can be exhilarating because of the entertainment value behind them, rather than the literary value.

One such novel is author Libba Bray’s novel A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Bray’s first novel, the first installment of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, centers around the main character, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle, who witnessed her mother’s death and is then sent to Spence Academy, a school created to teach girls the proper mannerisms and expectations of them during Victorian England.

While at Spence, Gemma makes friends and discovers she has a supernatural ability to have visions and go into the realms, a world not unlike an alternate universe, where she has to keep the peace.

I loved Bray’s novel for many reasons. One, it is a young adult novel, and is written as such. Literature like this makes it so easy to just forget everything because, as an adult, you’re not reading to understand, you’re reading to be entertained. However, I can totally see how a teenager could relate to all the struggles Gemma goes through as she loses her mother and is thrust into a school where she doesn’t know anyone.

Two, I enjoyed the book because it’s so creative. Bray used history to create a time and place, and then delved into the human psyche to create the many interesting and complex characters throughout the novel. Then, she added just a twist of the paranormal with the visions, and included so much rich description when Gemma and her friends reach the realms. It almost made me want to be in such a place.

I could go on and on about why I enjoyed Bray’s first novel of the trilogy. But, on the downside, I always wish books like this were written for adults. I realize sometimes it’s easier to write for a younger audience, but there are so many stories (like The Hunger Games, for instance) that could really be breathtaking and amazing if written for an adult.

However, I realize why she did it, and I commend her for it, giving young girls and boys something entertaining and relateable to read.

Honestly, though, I didn’t have very many criticisms for Bray’s debut novel. The characters were developed well, the prose flowed nicely, and everything fit together in a neat, if debut-y, package. I am definitely looking forward to continuing to read Bray’s novels if they fit the entertainment of her first.

Author Libba Bray’s novels, including Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing, the second and third of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, can be found in stores and online at Barnes and Noble and

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