Monday, November 26, 2012
A Great and Terrible Beauty
Gemma is miserable in India, but no matter how loud her protests, her mother will not let her move to London like her brother. Finally, Gemma runs off in a rage in the marketplace, just as a violent storm is brewing, and she has a vision of her mother's death. Then, Gemma gets her wish, she is sent to Spence Academy, a finishing school for proper young ladies. Visions similar to those that showed her mother's death still haunt her and a mysterious boy is now following her, warning her not to delve deeper into the visions. But once Gemma makes friends with enigmatic Felicity, beautiful Pippa and shy Ann, they form a club bent on learning this magic and making it theirs. All the while, Gemma is learning about two former students, Sarah and Mary, who also seemed to learn magic, with disastrous consequences. But Gemma and her friends are too smart and too good to let that happen to them, at least that's what they think.
Libba Bray does a wonderful job with this historical fiction, and after reading The Diviners, I really expected no less. Spence Academy is such a strange place, but it's very believable that the girls would act as they do. At one point, they are children, complete with jokes and giggles and immaturity, but at another point, they are women, with Gemma having such a vivid dream, yearning for husbands, or terrified of being married in Pippa's case. It's completely reasonable that at 16 the girls would be so childish, yet think or act like they are so mature.
Bray's writing style is not dense, but it is still lovely. I was not tempted to skip ahead, rather, I wanted to read the descriptions, read the background information for clues. It cannot be easy to write a book that is so rich in description without slowing down the plot, but Bray has proven that this is not an issue for her.
While I greatly enjoyed this book, it does share several themes with other works. Young girls dabbling in magic is not a new thing, and actually, it is much like the old movie, The Craft toward some points. For instance, the magic that they create in the garden fails Ann and she sees herself as ugly and mean. Also, they play jokes on that girls that have wronged them. It also reminded me of another series that I have yet to finish, The Sisters of Prophecy by Michelle Zink. A Great and Terrible Beauty seems much deeper than The Sisters of Prophecy however. There's something flat about the later that the former gets right. Have you ever had that feeling? It's difficult to describe how one book is better than the other, but you just feel differently about the two. I guess I need to hone my reviewing skills.
Thankfully, this series is all wrapped up and the companion book, Rebel Angels, is sitting in my kitchen. Unfortunately, it's over 500 pages long and due back to the library in four days. I'll make it, but Doug might be making his own dinner this week and Lucy might have to walk herself.