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. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.'
And what did I think?
I really liked it! It did remind me a lot of the movie The Craft, just set in a boarding school in Victorian England rather than wherever The Craft took place. I found myself thinking more about this thrown together group of friends than the central plot. While the girls occupied rather stereotypical roles at first, they began to evolve and grow. They started out as the pretty one (Pippa), the clever one (Ann), the charming one (Felicity), and the mysterious one, Gemma, the main character - or so Felicity describes them one emotionally wrought night. By the end of the book, through Gemma's eyes we see them as much more than these one dimensional characters. Pippa demonstrates a control over her own life, making her own choices; we see that while Felicity is power hungry she is filled with pain; Gemma begins to battle her own guilt over her mother's death; and Ann- ok I am not sure how Ann grew as a character. Although they are friends, they still can be awfully horrid and manipulative as well. (And as a small side note, I love the names Gemma and Pippa!)
The love story in this seems to be just getting off the ground- the question remains, will Gemma and Kartik become an item? We shall see.
The magic and mystery plot line, which was the main plot, was a little thin - I enjoyed it, I just wish it had had a little more force and oomph behind it. I did enjoy the mystery surrounding the diary however - which revealed a shocking secret!
I am looking forward to reading the second in the trilogy, Rebel Angels. I don't think I will begin it right away, I will wait for my friends to catch up, since I read this book as part of a "secret" online young adult book club. Just a few friends indulging in young adult fiction. Four of us actually. Hmmm.