A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first book in a trilogy, written by Libba Bray. The book is about a teenage girl named Gemma Doyle who moves from her home in India to Spence; an all girls academy in 19th century England, after her mother dies in a terrible accident. At Spence, Gemma meets three very special girls; Pippa, a beautiful girl with both icy-mean and lovable sides to her, Felicity, a strong and cunning leader with a lust for power, and Ann, a timid, insecure girl who longs for beauty and friendship.
The four girls sneak off from their dorms at night to escape the expectations and pressures of reality and Gemma soon decides that she can trust Pippa, Felicity and Ann with her biggest secret. Gemma Doyle can see the future. She has vivid dreams that seem to take her into a whole different world when she least expects it. Gemma learns to control her powers and starts bringing her friends into this dreamlike fairy tale world at every chance they get. There, everything is perfect; Pippa finds love, Felicity is powerful, Ann is beautiful and Gemma finds her mother, or so she believes. What Gemma and her friends must learn is that all good things must come to an end and that this perfect world isn’t at all what it may seems to be.
I loved this book mostly because of how relatable it was. Even though Libba Bray describes a girl in a time I was never a part of and deals with such an unworldly subject, she uses Gemma and her friend’s detailed personalities and character development throughout the book to make you feel as if you could very well be in the same situation.
Gemma has many conflicts in her relationships with her friends and family that involve problems like jealousy, and learning tolerance of others, such as her older brother Tom. She also suffers from the loss of her mother, and her fathers laudanum addiction. This creates a very emotional part of the plot as Gemma longs for her family to be whole and happy as it once was.
One the major themes of the book was the idea of women with power. The four girls represent powerful female leaders in a time when women were trained to be reserved and proper, serving as possessions to their male counterparts. I thought this added a very interesting side to the story because it shows the rebellious, strong sides of the women that are sometimes misconceived as proper or even weak.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a mix of fantasy, drama and a hint of romance.