Libby Bray

Books: Fantasy

A Great and Terrible Beauty (2003)

A Great and Terrible Beauty (2003)

I picked this book up because the cover caught my eye. I think it's the corset, which looks both authentic and terribly uncomfortable (or so says the eternal tomboy). Then I read the title and had to know more. Before the book starts, Libba Bray quotes part of the poem, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a poem that has interested me since I was younger, because it's mentioned in the Agatha Christie book The Mirror Crack'd. I figured that was pretty good grounds for getting a book–despite the fact that the main character is a teenager.

Monday night I picked up the book and thought I'd read a few pages to see if it was any good. 130 pages later I realized that it was past my bedtime and that I really needed to go to sleep. Which was pretty good, as for the first several chapters I kept thinking, “oh no, this is going to be one of those angsty teenage books that goes off in this direction” but then it went off in another direction entirely and I had to keep reading.

Gemma Doyle has grown up in India, but dreams of going to London. Unfortunately for her, she gets her wish, and is sent to Spence Academy, a finishing school.

I really liked this book, despite the fact that there was a good deal of talk about dresses and marriage and other dainty feminine subjects. Because those things were only the backdrop for the story, the time and the place in which the story was set, where that is how women were expected to behave. And of course the culture against which Gemma Doyle, as the hero of the story, is expected to rebel.

And the reasons why such girls would rebel are given–the descriptions of the clothing are realistic, and not romantic, including how the corsets restrict their breathing, and how heavy the dresses are in the hot sun.

This book is very well done. The characters–even when they are being utterly unappealing as only teenage girls can be–are still fascinating. The story is very good and drew me in almost immediately. I liked Gemma, despite the fact that she was a teenager. Probably because she was more self-aware than most teenager, and because her concerns were greater than gloves and manners and good husbands.

I am not sure if this story would appeal to a guy, although I would certainly recommend it. Michael said it looked interesting, so I'll have to get his opinion if he reads it.

Rating: 8/10