Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Series: Gemma Doyle: #1

Shall I tell you a story? A new and terrible one? A ghost story? Are you ready? Shall I begin? Once upon a time there were four girls. One was pretty. One was clever. One charming, and one…one was mysterious. But they were all damaged, you see. Something not right about the lot of them.

That was not at all what I expected. Granted, I didn’t expect much. I’ve had this book on my to read list for years and decided to finally try it without looking at anything but the cover. Instead, we got a slow building paranormal boarding school / historic urban fantasy set in around the turn of the 20th century with a portal fantasy turned surprisingly dark.

I really did enjoy the boarding school theme to the story. It’s a way to actually have young adult characters without having to deal all the times with with parents and, for better or for worse, has a very ‘British’ vibe to me. The magical realms that eventually show up really do feel truly magical and fantastic. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of science or well defined rules to this magic, but sometimes that’s okay.

On the other hand, it’s got a whole heap of questionable parts, with how it treats Indian and Romani culture, hints at sexual awakening I’ve gotten entirely too old to approve of, and the main characters are… teenage girls really. They’re okay, but I don’t know how they manage to interact with one another for more than a few minutes. It feels like an odd combination of dated and modern, without the justifications of either.

Unfortunately, the main plot doesn’t seem to move along. It’s the first of a trilogy and it shows. In the end, I enjoyed the book more than I expected to and I’ll give the sequels a chance. We’ll see how it goes from here.

In every end, there is also a beginning.