Sunday, December 12, 2010

Great Power, Great Responsibility

A Great And Terrible Beauty
Libba Bray

With apologies to Spiderman, I'm starting this review with a paraphrase from him: With great power, comes great responsibility.  And that is also the theme of this book. Libba Bray's title is spot on. Power can be a great and terrible beauty.

I read a fascinating essay by Libba Bray a few weeks ago.  I didn't realize I owned the book but when I stumbled upon it in the bookshelf recently, I picked it up.  I wanted to see what else Libba Bray had to say.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is gothic, set in the Victorian era. After a family tragedy, Gemma Doyle moves from India to England to attend a women's finishing school.

The girls are being groomed to be the perfect society wives.  Their job will be to support their husband, not sully his name, and lie back and think of England. Through a bit of blackmail, Gemma secures a place with the most popular girls in school. Their tenuous friendship deepens, and as they realize their futures are looming, they also look for more freedom.

The discover a way to enter the Realms, the otherworld, and there they unleash a powerful, primordial magic.  Heady with their new power, the girls of The Order begin their adventures, but a powerful brother organization tries to thwart them.  The Order no idea how grave the consequences of their power can be.

While A Great and Terrible Beauty is a fun, mysterious YA read with a kick-ass heroine who seems attainable to any reader, it is also social commentary about coming of age and women's role in society.  You feel the frustration of Felicity, Gemma, and Pippa as they want more from their life than to just be a dutiful society wife. Living at the turn of the century, and with their newfound power, this might just be in their grasp.

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