Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have had this trilogy on my bookshelf long enough & decided to jump in and read it. I must admit that I have mixed feelings for this first book. It's well written and kept me consistently interested but I also feel that not much happened overall. It's historical fiction but the tone of the narrator's voice and some of the phrases she used, felt very modern. I don't think that was an accident and wonder if it was done because this is a YA novel to make it more relatable. I read my fair share of historical fiction novels and this is not something I'm used to seeing. I also worked out the secret fairly early that took Gemma quite some time to suss out. As this is a YA read, I'm not really dissatisfied with that. The way it unfolded for Gemma read credibly.

I enjoyed Gemma. She had a quick wit and also had a decent enough depth of character that following her through the story was enjoyable. I thought the circle of friends, Felicity, Pippa & Ann was an interesting dynamic because the girls are at a far off boarding school, so it's more like a lifeboat situation than it is a flowery bonding with kindred spirits thing. Because of this, I thought the friends/frienemy aspect rang true. The girls were kind, vicious, jealous, needy, simpering & cloying all at different intervals as they tried to work out their positions in the group. It was uncomfortably real in some exchanges and I thought, well done. I did like that all the girls had very much in common the painful absence of parents and family. They've all been sent away to be shaped and groomed into proper standard bearers to deeply flawed families. Ironic.

The thread of the story that has to do with Gemma and her new found ability seemed to get a bit of short shrift in the explanation & unfolding the mystery department. It really comes together in the last third of the book. There are two more books, so I'm not worried that the main will be lost on that one. The Order, the Rakshana & the malevolent Circe have my attention and I want to know more. I am also interested in how the friendships of the girls will evolve now that one is not with them & I'd like to know more about Kartik.

Overall, this felt like a solid set up for a series. The next two books are longer so I'm assuming that bodes well. I do have to say that I quite like Libba Bray's writing style. It's worth a read, just for that.

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