Quill Quips: A Great And Terrible Beauty

I've been looking forward to this moment. The day that I can publish my first book review. And what a start it is indeed as it'll be my review of Book 1 in The Gemma Doyle Trilogy penned by Libba Bray entitled A Great And Terrible Beauty. Before I proceed, which I'll brand as Quill Quips from this day forth (although, the quip part being an understatement of sorts. lol.), allow me to share my journey into discovering this gem of a series.

The date was January 2. I had many things to do that day: meet someone to pick up a batch of new pin orders, pay my credit card bill and buy a new portable HDD. Since most of these errands involves a mall as a meeting place, a bookstore will always be in it. Whenever I see a bookstore, I always pass through inside like a religion of sorts. I thrill at the sight of new releases on the shelf and read the synopsis at the back to see if it's a good read. Before I went home feeling accomplished at completing my tasks, I passed through Fully Booked in Gateway since that's where I often get my ride home. When I saw a paperback version of Lisa Klein's Ophelia and slightly cheaper version of Ken Follett's The Pillars Of The Earth, I didn't think twice about grabbing them even though I had quite a number of unread books on my night table. Since the line to the cashier was a bit long, I scanned through their bestseller shelf and saw a lone brown paperback with a woman dressed in a lace inner garment and corset. I've always been fascinated by period books or movies thus I grabbed it and read its synopsis at the back. The principal character was 16-year-old Gemma Doyle. Was this another young adult fiction, I thought? I dismissed it given that I liked what I read. I proceeded to the cashier and paid for my books. I got home, started to wrap the rest of my unread books using a new method and lined them up. The only one in my unread stack that wasn't recommended to me was the last book I picked out. That became my deciding factor to crack it open. I haven't turned my back since. I was hooked to say the least enough to do a man-hunt on January 5 for the rest of the books in the series which I discovered ended on December 2007. I wasn't disappointed since I got all three. And now, it's time to share it. For those who haven't read the series, this review will be slightly spoilerish so proceed at your own risk. Now, on to my review...


I'll hold on to that fragile slice of hope and keep it close, remembering that in each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We're each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real. We've got to forgive ourselves that. I must remember to forgive myself. Because there's an awful lot of gray to work with. No one can live in the light all the time.

The wind shifts, bringing with it the smell of roses, strong and sweet. Across the ravine, I see her in the dry crackle of leaves. A deer. She spies me and bolts through the trees. I run after her, not really giving chase. I'm running because I can, because I must.

Because I want to see how far I can go before I have to stop.

An excerpt from "A Great And Terrible Beauty"

Despite being categorized as Young Adult fiction, the except I just quoted above hardly sounds like it at all. The series is told through the eyes of Gemma Doyle, a 16-year old English woman. The story begins in rural India where Gemma was being dragged through the humid marketplace by her mother, Virginia, and their housekeeper, Sarita, to celebrate her 16th birthday in a family friend's house. Gemma, who has hated her existence in India, was belligerent through their march towards the train station, irritated in the manner by which her mother ignores her wishes of a simple yet fascinating life in London, a yearning brought about by her paternal grandmother's tales. Along their journey, someone breathed a name to Virginia. Circe, he said. For some strange reason, it sent Virginia into a panic and asked her Gemma to go back home instead, but not without giving her amulet to wear as protection. Upset and drenched in sweat, Gemma spat at her mother and ran as far away as she could. She didn't care where her feet would lead her. All of a sudden, she stopped dead on her tracks. She felt she was sucked into a portal where she saw, all too clearly, her mother running into an herb shop and stabbing herself to death. Gemma couldn't believe her eyes but she ran back, never caring if her feet hurt, just to have the reassurance that her mother wasn't dead, that it didn't happen. The only thing she remembered was seeing her mother's pale face and her blood drenching the edges of her gown.

This tragedy led her to return back to London and was sent to in Spence Academy, a finishing school for women in society where the objective was to produce the graceful and beautiful wives any proper Englishmen would take. Gemma was accepted into the academy, more out of charity given the death of her mother resulting from "cholera." Murder was a scandalous news for any respectable family. Cholera was the script. Gemma is roomed with Ann Bradshaw, a orphaned scholar, groomed to be a governess since that was her place in the world. She encounters the most popular and beautiful girls of the school, Felicity and Pippa, and manages to earn their scorn. She was going to be the most ostracized girl in the academy. The idea comforted her until the visions plague her at the most unfortunate times, forcing her to be more recluse, attempting to hide it from everyone else. Soon enough, with her sarcastic wit, compassionate heart and her knack for being at the right place at the right time, she eventually becomes good friends with Ann, Felicity and Pippa. The four of them shared something in common: they were all broken young women, all pained by the expectations and aspirations of their families and the society at large. They all wished for something different and Gemma allowed them to discover the realms of the Order. It was magic and the supernatural that brought them closer. However, their yearnings of a life most different have led them to discover that the realms of the Order had its dark side too. Will the four friends succumb to the draws of the realms or turn their backs on it? And what about Kartik who is a member the Rakshana, the opposing forces that saw to the closure of the realms and the destruction of the Order? Will Gemma be able to resist her feelings towards him in order to face her destiny, her path?

It's a riveting story to say the least, and quite a page-turner. A Great And Terrible Beauty is 39 chapters long but the gaps between chapters are surprisingly short; none ever exceeding 15 page leaves. It reads like a typical Victorian-era novel even though the writer is American and hasn't lived in Europe. The detail by which she describes the scenery, the characters and their journeys were just right: not too succinct, not too meticulous. And the nitpicker in me would happily praise her editor as I hardly saw or noticed, if not none, a glaring grammatical error. Two thumbs up for that and everything else!

Whenever I see "The New York Times Bestseller" label splashed on top of any novel's cover, I hardly believe it. My journey through books has always been an anti-mainstream one: never getting the first book in the series until it's too late but overcompensating for the time missed. And boy, do I regret missing this series when it first began. Never mind, I have all three books and it's gravy from there. The label is truly deserved: Libba Bray is perhaps one of the best storytellers/authors I've ever encountered in my life. After browsing her official website, it further strengthen my wish to meet her, have all my books signed, chat over coffee or beer and muse on a strategy to get into The Oprah Winfrey Show. So cheers to you Libba as I continue on my journey to the other two books in the series because like Gemma...

I want to see how far I can go

But, in this case, I will never find a reason to stop loving anything she writes. Case closed.


My verdict: 5 out of 5 quills! =]


xoxo, l.p.


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