If you like: magic * boarding school * London
A Great and Terrible Beauty is the story of Gemma, a young woman whose life is turned upside down when she first discovers her connection to a magical realm by seeing a vision of her mother’s murder while it is occuring. After her mother's death, Gemma leaves India for London where she attends a boarding school and hopes to become a fine young woman. Shortly after she arrives, Gemma learns that her visions are more than she thought, and makes several new friends exploring the world of magic. Gemma quickly understands that she must control her powers and that they are not all just fun but have a dangerous dark side.
Tragedy and loss play an important role in A Great and Terrible Beauty. Gemma is not the only young lady to have experienced loss; she discovers that each of her new friends have also lost someone. Though each girl feels the emptiness of a lost loved one, their losses are each unique. In coming together these unlikely friends learn much about themselves when they connect more deeply than is considered socially acceptable in their time. The chance to explore their dreams makes each young woman stronger than she would have been otherwise, and allows them to stand up for themselves and fight for the future they want. These desires do have a dark side, and the dangers of power are quickly revealed.
The power of love plays an integral role in A Great and Terrible Beauty. Gemma’s mother's death is partially due to her desire to love and protect her daughter. Though she has the best intentions, her decision to keep the past from Gemma only makes things more dangerous for her. Love has blinded Virginia and causes her to overlook the potential of mentoring her own daughter for what may come. Pippa is also impacted greatly by love. She aspires to have more than just a high station; she wishes for true romance and is willing to give up all of her upbringing in order to embrace her fairytale ending. Both Ann and Felicity have a strong desire for love of family and future beyond what they have seen in their own parents' lives. They each want to achieve something powerful, to be seen as beautiful not for their looks but for their own talents and skills. In the end, it is Gemma’s love and willingness to explore that love that allows her to save herself and her friends. Although the novel could have explored more of the magical realms, just hinting at their potential creates an interesting story, and a focus on the magic is not necessary to make the world captivating. The reader will look forward to reading future installments of the series.
If you would glimpse at your future with open eyes, read A Great and Terrible Beauty.
Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy). Random House Children's Books, 2003. Kindle Edition.