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A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray is the first in a truly wonderful trilogy. The trilogy follows Gemma Doyle, 16, who leaves her home in India during the 1890s for school in England after the death of her mother.
A Great and Terrible Beauty explores how Gemma struggles to fit into English society, remaining unpopular among her peers for some time. Gemma suffers worse than unpopularity, though, as she has visions that threaten her sanity.
One of these visions lead Gemma into caves near the school, and from here the novel takes a fantastical, creative turn. It turns out that Gemma, and her friends, are able to enter into a magical realm, but must help to protect it to prevent any further deaths. Furthermore, when Gemma discovers the truth of her mother’s own powers Gemma begins to question if she ever really knew her at all.
The relationships between Gemma and her friends are tested as they deal with the knowledge of this other realm, and handle a power they could never expect to have as women in the 1890s.
Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing deal with the fallout from the girls’ actions in the first novel, but also examines how women struggled to achieve their own desires in a strict society.
I originally read these novels back when I was around 11/12, however they are dark in places, dealing with issues such as sexual desire, death and family relationships. I’d recommend these to anyone who enjoys fantasy novels, the added historical factor really appealed to me when I was younger as well.
Bray writers brilliantly, creating a world that is tangible, and teenage girls who are realistic and interesting in their own right.
And now, Reread, Rewrite or Burn…
This was a fabulous idea I saw on Kristin Kraves Books, like ‘kiss, marry, kill’ but for books. I decided to try it with this trilogy because normally I’ve found that there are weaker books in trilogies and series. Well… that’s what I thought, trying to do it for these three brilliant books was ridiculously hard and I wanted to chicken out. At the end of the day I love all three and the trilogy as a whole, and view this more as me picking which out of the three I thought was the best and strongest (so please don’t be put off!)
Reread: A Great And Terrible Beauty (book 1) – it was just a perfect mixture of realism and fantasy. Bray managed to make it appeal to me in so many different ways.
Rewrite: The Sweet Far Thing (book 3) – even though I enjoyed the novel there were several parts that I found I wanted to tweek. The ending could have done a little more, I think, but then I am an adult reader now and the ending is right for the YA audience. It was also a little long for me back then, although what, if anything, could have been left out I don’t know.
Burn: Rebel Angels (book 2) – even though I loved this book as part of the trilogy it was my least favourite of them. I felt that some of the parts with Pippa were strong, and I enjoyed getting to know more about the girls and seeing them develop as characters. I did feel, though, that this novel was, in a lot of ways, a setting up for the final book. Whilst I understand that’s the point of a lot of books and films in series, I felt it just didn’t hold it’s own the way the other two books did.