A Great and Terrible Beauty-Libba Bray
So what would those girls from the movie “Mean Girls” look like in Victorian England?
“A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel. Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order.”
I read Libba Bray’s “Beauty Queens” before reading this, and at first, I was totally excited. I loved Beauty Queens. But as I started reading, the more bored and frustrated I became. We meet Gemma Doyle, and at sixteen years old, she is introduced as a brat. Not the best way to introduce our hero. She is arguing with her mother, begging and wishing to be sent to England. But then, a mysterious force appears and her mother is murdered. Then, in a strange turn of events, Gemma gets her way. Sent to England and to Spence Boarding School for girls, where she is bombarded with mean girls. Then, things take a turn for the gothic when it is revealed that she is has a special power that lets her access a different plan of existence called The Realms and magic. But, there is also a mystery revolving around two girls from many years ago who died in a fire in the east wing of the building. By the end of the book, one of the girls has chosen to stay behind the Realms of magic, her body dying, while the other girls are tasked to rebuild The Order, to bring back balance to the Realm of magic and the mortal world.
How Bray created a mystical Victorian Gothic novel is amazing. The mannerisms of the characters, the historical imagery of an older Imperial England, and the air of creepiness, emerged me into a potentially exciting world. Potentially: key word. I couldn’t fully emerse myself into Bray’s Victorian England because the main characters, Gemma, Anne, Felicity and Pippa are well, not nice girls. They are suppose to develop this friendship between each other but they all hide secrets and are back stabbing each other. I have a hard time believing these girls are remotely nice, even Gemma.
Despite the downfall of the characters, I am interested in seeing what happen to Gemma and her crew in the next two books. Do they rebuild the Order? Does anyone else die? How about do any of the girls go bad?
I’m hoping that the next two books, Rebel Angles and The Sweet Far Thing, will be a little better in that I don’t despise our hero, Gemma.