I have decided to write what I know. I know what I write, and I know what I read. Thus, I am what I read so I write it down in order to share. A formula of this nature requires an adoption of platform geared to that specific interest for the purpose of collecting, inquiring, sharing, and in general oogling at yet another library. (the one in my room, now being too large, is in some boxes.) Enter Goodreads to to the rescue! The ability to cross post means I sharing in one place with appearance in the other. (To think I once, and sometimes still, decry how often social media’s lean toward all system access with a want for our informative control. Cross posting has saved this writer’s hands from constant clicking!) As I go through Goodreads to mark what I desire to read and some of what I have in profile development, I can not but stop and think of what drew me towards the YA shelf in 2003, and has hooked me ever since to seeing the developments of fiction in this area. The cover alone of a young woman, corseted back showing with the title had me putting it on a “to read later”, “Will by in paperback” status for months. Whatever year it came to paperback I can’t say, but after reading it I was so enthralled that I waited and purchased the remaining parts of the trilogy in hardback! A love of historical fiction carried me easily to Bray’s tempting fare. The BBC has provided me with classics of each English age and radio programs, so it is never hard to sell me on an English setting of any era. This one promised India, England, mystic orders, and gypsies.
A Great and Terrible Beauty tells the story of Gemma Doyle, a girl who has up until the age of sixteen been raised in British Colonial India. With the loss of her mother due to a terrible accident, her father descends in to a lesser state. The world that once was warm becomes gray as she returns to England to be taken in at Spence Academy in London. In a sea of girls who have been groomed since their youngest ages to be turned out the graceful, talented wives of societal climbers, Gemma stands alone as an outsider. What will bring her further in to the fray, and bring to her a group of others not quite as they seem are ties to a group called The Order, who’s shade filled past haunted the hems of her mother’s gown. I could not put it down, and have reread it every year since for a visit with the intelligent red haired Gemma, the daring Felicity, the gentle Anne, and the beautiful- as- a -cameo Pippa. The thrill of secrets past, the rush of adrenaline in discovery, and even the familiar favorite of encroaching horror go hand in hand with easy to Victorian fashion, humor, and societal expectation. There will be laughter, gasping, and tears in the pages of this book.
For a reader cautious to the tone in period pieces, the tone is not bombastic. Period words is not thick herein. No linguistic deterrents! Bray’s attention to detail comes across best in societal expectation, so while painting the setting we see how her characters take the workings of the age. It is an authentic voice for the lead character and her additional companions. Given this is a YA title, it is important for the expected age range to have a grasp. I feel that young women can see themselves inside the characters; all of them are equal in displaying beauty, insecurity, hopes, dreams, wishes, and the extreme finality of decisions that seem so set in that place in time. For an older reader? Not only will you see where you have been, you will see yourself in what you have become. Even as we age do we not hold the same insecurities we did as we were younger? They manifest themselves to something new. We are all beholden with fears and secrets. Only in this case, the secrets are of an otherworldly nature.
Book 1 of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy is nothing short of beautiful, so I gave it then and still give it now an A+. There are two additional books that complete this: Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing. Be on the look for my thoughts on those, and never undestimate how a book stays with you across time!