Audio Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacourt Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Teen
Source: Library
Amazon     Barnes and Noble     IndieBound
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Summary from Amazon:

 It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

My Thoughts

I have been wanting to read this book for years.  I can’t count the number of times I have checked out the book from the library, only to have it sit in a pile of books, unopened.  I finally managed to read (via audiobook) A Great and Terrible Beauty, and I have to say, it wasn’t what I expected.  Although I had heard many wonderful things about this series, I didn’t go in with too high of expectations.  I went in thinking, okay this is going to be a well-written, interesting story.  And although that was true, I can’t say I loved this book.

My main issue with this book is that I really didn’t like any of the characters.  I often hear that liking a MC shouldn’t be a requirement to enjoy a book, but it is for me.  If I don’t really like the MC, it is really hard for me to enjoy the book.  The protagonist, Gemma, is certainly a well-developed character.  You really get to know who she is.  But I just wasn’t really invested in her.  I don’t know why she became friends with Pippa, Anne, and Felicity.  I mean, they were so awful to her when she first arrived at Spence, and even when they became friends, they weren’t that nice.

And that brings me to the secondary characters.  I really didn’t like Pippa, Anne or Felicity.  And I can’t imagine anyone didn’t realize that Felicity was going to cause all sorts of problems later on in the book.  I wouldn’t have trusted Felicity as far as I could throw her (and let me just say I have arms like spaghetti – not all skinny, but no strength).  I couldn’t even like Anne (sort of an underdog with no money or connections) because she never stood up for Gemma, or even for herself.  Anne just wanted to please Pippa and Felicity.

That’s not to say that these four girls (Gemma, Anne, Pippa, and Felicity) didn’t have some redeeming qualities.  They are all dealing with situations that make them very unhappy.  You learn that being a young woman living in Victorian England pretty much sucked.  This is another thing that made it hard for me to love this book.  It was just so depressing.  Well, not too depressing, but more depressing than I like it a book.

But, I do think the writing was stellar, as was the pacing.  The story was very interesting, and I thought it was pretty unique.  I like that it was historical fiction with paranormal elements thrown in.  I don’t see too many of those books floating around.  So, if you are one of the few people who hasn’t read this book, I do encourage you to give it a try.  Just because it wasn’t a favorite of mine, you might love it.  I know lots of people do!  I just can’t get into books where I don’t connect with the MC.  I don’t think I will read the rest of the Gemma Doyle series, but I do still want to look into Bray’s other  books (particularly Beauty Queens).

About Quinn

I'm a twenty-something children's librarian at a public library in Central New York. I've long left my teen years behind me, but I love to read YA and children's books. I have two adorable dogs. Ginger is a mix between a poodle and havanese, and Daphne is Bichon Frise. Other things I love: Favorite Movie: Singing in the Rain Favorite Book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Favorite TV Show: Monk
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8 Responses to Audio Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

  1. Susan says:

    See, I LOVED the Gemma Doyle trilogy with Rebel Angels (book 2) being my favorite. AGATB was hard to get into at first, but it picked up for me about 1/2 through and I read the rest of the series pretty fast.

    I also read Beauty Queens and honestly it was too silly for me. It’s supposed to be a dark comedy, but it was just too over the top. You might like it though!

  2. Liesel Hill says:

    Great review! Haven’t read this one and haven’t actually seen too many reviews, though it seems like the ones I have seen have been mixed. I really love the title of this book, so it’s too bad it’s not better. Thanks for the honesty! 😀

  3. Jen says:

    See, I feel like the odd one out. I LOVED this entire series. Granted, the books did get better with the second and third installments. But oh, man. No one can world build like Libba Bray. These books were phenomenal, but I’ve definitely noticed they’re not for everyone!

  4. Candice says:

    I really loved this series, but see your points entirely. I wasn’t in love with Gemma, nor did I particularly like the other characters, but I think I got them. I wanted to see them develop and play out; essentially I became invested in them, their developments, and their stories. However, this is not a series I would suggest persevering through. If you didn’t enjoy the first book, I wouldn’t expect the second one to change your mind in the slightest bit. The rest were a little out there. Hopefully Beauty Queens is more your style! I haven’t read it, but would love to one day!

  5. I for one liked the whole series much better than the first book. The characters aren’t easy to like. But you’ll slowly get to know them (and their issues) over the course of the three books. They’re interesting gals. I for one would suggest trying book 2. Though I loved Beauty Queens more than this series. I just think Bray gets better and better with each book!

  6. Kim says:

    This is one of my favorite series. I understand your point about not liking the characters much. I felt the same way but liked AGATB enough to read the second book. After the second book things feel into place for me. I think book 2 and 3 really turned it around for me and made me fall in love with the series as a whole.

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