Monday, January 18, 2010

A Great And Terrible Beauty

"Gemma Doyle isn't like other girls. Girls with impeccable manners, who speak when spoken to, who remember their station, and who will lie back and think of England when it's required of them.
No, sixteen-year-old-Gemma is an island unto herself, sent to Spence Academy in London after tragedy strikers her family in India. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma finds a chilly reception. But she's not completely alone... she's been followed by a mysterious young man, who warns her to closer her mind against the visions.
For it's at Spence that Gemma's power to attract the supernatural unfolds; there she becomes entangled with the school's most powerful girls and discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy group called the Order. It's there that her destiny waits... if only she can believe in it."

But what can Gemma do, when the power of the Order, a circle of powerful sorceress, that lies within her starts to bloom? When the buried past starts to arise and when she can only be attracted by its dread and charm? She cannot escape this new power, even if she is ordered to.

What Gemma doesn't know is that who she thought were foes will become friends; the headstrong Felicity, who at Gemma's arriving took her as another pet to play with, the beautiful Pipa who follows Felicity everywhere and takes part in every of her taunts, and the submissive and shy Ann who lets herself be tormented by the other girls.

Introduced by a secret diary recalling the adventures of two members of the Order before her, Gemma will bring her friend's and hers, very distinct personalities together, and that it's with them that she will enter the Realms; a place of wonder and magic situated between the world of the mortals and the deceased.

The realms have been home to the Order since the beginning of times. It's where dreams come true, where rocks can be turned into rubies by the simple touch of your finger and where leaves can become bright butterflies. The girls relish this power, blithe to be free of their real world's corseted rules. Only Gemma's happiness is short-lived, for her mother's dark secrets are ready to catch up with her, and Circe, an ex-member of the Order, stalks our protagonist's every step, ready for anything in order to get the Realm's power back.

Ah, so when I first saw this book, I was very hesitant. The story looked very unoriginal to me, considering the load of fantasy books of the same type as this one. The cover was very delicious-looking though, and I usually always fall for the many good critiques. And so I bought it, and guess what? Libba Bray became my favorite author.

Yes, this book is about magic and twirling girls, and evil antagonists who want all the powers for themselves, but it's not in the way we know it. The story takes place during the Victorian era, in England, in a time where minds were as corseted as the ladies' waists. The first thing that pleased me in AGATB is how well this time is reflected in the book. It has an impact on very character, and you see how Gemma, Felicity, Pipa and Ann struggle to live in it: Gemma doesn't fit anywhere, Pipa's beauty is considered like an object to be sold to the most worthy, Felicity despises women's lack of authority, and Ann the lack of attention and recognition because of her status of orphan. These are the reasons they see the Realms like a place of freedom, because it's there they can be anyone they want.

Many elements of the book hold meanings and a symbolic, and I really enjoyed that. It is always good to think further in the significations of things, and Libba Bray excels in that! She is also a best selling author for a reason. Her vocabulary is so rich, her story telling so smooth and her texts entertaining. Her book is the kind of book you look forward to opening again, and which you are afraid of finishing while at the same time craving for it to unravel.

The book is very special because the friendship between Pip, Fee, Gemma and Ann are so like our friendships too. The girls have their quarrels, their mockeries and their snobbish times, their reconciliations and those little secrets we share only between our best friends. You can really relate to that, and sometimes you tell yourself 'hey, that's exactly how my friend acts!' Libba's characters are also very well developed, with their faults an benefits at the same time.

The Realms, how ever, did not seem as wonderful as they should have seemed. I felt as if the girls always did the same thing; turn rocks into rubies, leaves into butterflies, make themselves beautiful or into anyone or anything, and twirl around till exhaustion. Yes, they did visit some of the folks that live in the Realms, but I somehow enjoyed the chapters about the real world more than those about the Realms.

The book had a good ending, and things we thought to be turned out to be different, surprising. I wouldn't have minded to see a bit more of action, a bit more of fighting, but I guess you can't ask Victorian ladies to go out charging at the evil standing in their way with swords and blades.

I appreciated this book a lot. It's probably one of the best books I read, and the plot, even if it seems cliche and common at first, is very good and entertaining. I recommend it to girl s in love with the Victorian era, with fleecy dresses and girls who aren't as charming as they might look.

Now, grace, beauty and strength, ladies!

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Rating: 8,8/10

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