A Great and Terrible Beauty

September 9, 2009 at 12:00 am 6 comments

‘Don’t you have any warrior spirit, Miss Temple?’ Miss Moore asks.

Cecily is aghast. ‘I certainly hope not….A woman should never show anything so unseemly.’

‘But without that spark of anger, without destruction, there can be no rebirth.’

I have been avoiding this book for years. It always kind of intrigued me, honestly, what with the girl on the cover in what looks to be a pretty accurate reproduction Victorian corset, the girl’s school thing, and the hint of the supernatural that the book jacket copy promised.

But then, there are a lot of terrible books out there that also contain magic, corsets, and boarding schools…normally you can pick them up in the ‘erotica’ section of any secondhand bookstore for fifty cents or so.

Then a week or so ago, I stumbled on this (probably via this, but I can’t be certain), which essentially endorsed Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy as a feminist Harry Potter, only…well, not very much like Harry Potter at all. There is  nothing more refreshing than a novel for young girls that doesn’t focus on boys and how to get them, so I decided to give this book a chance, despite its bodice-ripping cover.

I am so happy I did, too. Gemma Doyle herself is delightful, and her personality and actions seem so real and so genuine that the reader just takes her supernatural visions in stride. This is a neat trick, actually, and I love it when writers can pull it off; if it’s clear that the character is an intelligent, reasonable person not prone to drama, then any supernatural phenomena can be taken at face value. The reader never questions Gemma’s clairvoyance, because she is so sensible and trustworthy otherwise.

As for the feminisim, it’s not blatant, but it’s there. Though Gemma and her friends have a healthy adolescent in boys and are definitely ready for some sexual exploration, it’s not the main focus of the story. The novel is mainly about the friendship between a group of girls, the politics that can be involved, and the dangers of misusing power, all delightfully interesting topics, especially when placed in a Victorian setting.

I will definitely be checking out the rest of the trilogy ASAP — and if this sounds like your sort of thing, too, I would recommend buying a copy, either for yourself or for any teenage girl you’d like to see break away from this sort of thing.


Entry filed under: Children and Young Adult, Historical Fiction. Tags: , .

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict Literary Transgression: Encyclopædias

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  September 10, 2009 at 4:56 am

    I’ve never actually heard of this book, so forgive me for asking but what is the basic plot, aside from corsets, teenage girls and the supernatural?

    That aside, it sounds like a great read! I am vaguely worried about the seep of chick lit into middle school, so I’m glad there is something slightly more substantive to combat the seep!

    • 2. KT  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:37 am

      Whoops! Girl is raised in India until her mother dies a horrible, mysterious death. Girl moves to London, then is enrolled in a prestigious boarding school where it soon becomes evident that she is being stalked by the supernatural entity that killed her mother…and is being followed by a rather handsome young man who is trying to protect her from said entity.

      Fortunately, said handsome man is pretty ineffectual, so Gemma has plenty of opportunities to prove that girls are always smarter than boys. :D

      • 3. Corey  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:41 am

        India?! That’s awesome! And imperialism-y! :D It sounds even better now!

  • 4. Aishwarya  |  October 15, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I should point out (as thrilled as I am to see really good YA set partly in India) that people in Bombay do not and did not in the 1800s sell snakes for food on the streets – considering how much research Bray did on the Victorian bits it’s a little maddening. I really like this book, but that first chapter always has me seething!

    • 5. KT  |  October 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm

      Admittedly, I am not as informed about 19th-century Bombay as I could be…but I totally understand how maddening historical inaccuracies can be! Well spotted, and thanks for the heads-up :)

  • […] Beauty was light enough lift me out of my June reading doldrums, plus Kate reviewed this book a couple of years back and liked it a lot more than I did. So, it’s worth a go if you’re looking for something […]


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