Published by: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
Year of Publication: 2003
Summary (from goodreads.com): 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.
Review: At first I wasn’t quite sure to think of this book. While I didn’t find the writing amazing, I was intrigued by the storyline and found myself wondering where it was going to go next.
I found the characters were a little one dimensional – I would have loved to learn more about them, especially Gemma and Ann. And I have a suspicion that Miss Moore will also be making at least one more appearance.
I found Gemma easy to like, though I didn’t like Felicity and Pippa as much. Maybe it was because I found them hard to relate to – they’re so different than me. I’m intrigued by Kartik, I want to know what’s going to happen to him and Gemma down the road (I do suspect some romance between the two of them).
I really enjoyed reading about the setting and time – what it was like to be a sixteen year old in Victorian England. I thought the beginning of the book in India was a great contrast to life in England later on. It’s so interesting to see how people lived their lives hundreds of years ago.
I will definitely be reading the next book in the trilogy, Rebel Angels.
Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library.