Reading Backwards

Book reviews by your favorite Git.

A Great And Terrible Beauty

with 77 comments

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The AGATB post is here:


By Libba BrayAGATB
Do the woman at favor
Read: July 2006
Rating: Fabulous

My dear friend Sreya loaned her Libba Bray books to me a few weeks ago. (Really, she owes me half her library, since half of mine has been sitting in hers since we were in high school. But I digress.) She swore I could keep them all indefinately (this in return for her keeping my books endlessly) except for these. I now see why. They are wonderful and precious, and I’m trying to figure out how a girl with zero income can get herself a copy to keep.

It’s Victorian, somewhat Gothic fantasy. The Supernatural. With a hint of the exotic–namely India. It’s also about girls growing up; girls being friends; girls who associate because of circumstances; girls who are becoming women. Girls who, in an era of repression, long to be free and seize what power they can.

All of this is wrapped up in Libba Bray’s first novel, and I am quite in love.
The style is something of a throwback for me, and I wish these had been around when I was in middle and high school. They would have been PERFECT for me; really risque. Now I love being immersed in something that is at once simple and complex, daring and somewhat safe. Of course, safety doesn’t exist in this novel.

Gemma Doyle was raised in India during the British Empire’s reign. It is the late 1800s, and all the prim and proper social requirements apply. Poor Gemma has just turned 16 and wants to leave this dusty backwater and go to England, the land of society balls and debutantes. Her mother will not allow it. Like many mothers and teenagers, Gemma fights with her mother, throwing out words she means–but doesn’t really.

As she runs from the marketplace of their argument, Gemma is seized by a vision and witnesses her mother’s death in the next street over.

Nothing is ever the same for her again.

They return to England to bury Virginia Doyle and send Gemma off to boarding school at last. The family shushes the scandal by claiming that Virginia died of cholera, but Gemma knows better. She is sent to Spence Academy for Young Ladies, as tight-laced and secretly subversive a place as you’d expect. The headmistress is stern and the girls are all playing for social power amongst themselves. Gemma has two choices: cozy up to the charming Felicity and her friend Pippa or remain an outcast with her scholarship roommate, Ann. An accident puts Gemma in with Felicity anyway. Gemme uses the opportunity to force her to accept Ann into their group, and the four girls become a unit.

But the visions have not stopped. And now a mysterious, and beautiful, young man from India, Kartik, is following Gemma and warning her not to follow the visions into the other realm–the place where souls go after their deaths. A place most people only see in dreams, fleetingly. Gemma and her friends are enchanted by the paradise they find there, and begin to take chances with the power given them.

It’s not just schoolgirl tales. A mysterious group of women called the Order once guarded the realms, using their powers to protect and to heal. But something terrible happened at Spence some twenty years ago, and the Order is no more. With the power reawakened in Gemma, the realms are open once more. But a terrible enemy lurks, waiting to extract her revenge… if only Gemma can learn who to trust: herself.

A trilogy, we won’t know the final answer for some time. I’m already buried in the sequel, Rebel Angels, and hoping for the third to come out soon. (Ms. Bray’s LiveJournal says she’s working on it.) I’m happy to wait, though. The books are powerful all on their own, and completely suck you in. I accord some of this to their being written in the first-person present. Gemma narrates as events happen, which gives immediacy an depth of feeling to every event.

And our Gemma is not a wilting flower of the age. She’s a girl with spirit, will, and wit. Her sense of humor is often self-deprecating, and she often has to fight to constrain herself after another girl has done something particularly snide or outright rude. Gemma is often reprimanded by family and teachers, but her friends come to admire her for it–and Felicity is also more and more daring. It quickly comes to light that all four girls have secrets; they only thing they demand within their circle is to tell the truth.

Ms. Bray often says in interviews and on her LJ that she doesn’t outline or plan ahead, and this allows the characters to take over, leaving her with a fascinating study of human nature. She’s absolutely right, and I adore her for it. It helps to have Gemma explaining each time a matter of etiquette or culture comes up.

There are definately elements I recognize from both the Secret Garden and, especially, A Little Princess (girl raised in India returns to England and enters a horrific boarding school where she befriends a lonely girl of lower standing). Nevertheless, Gemma is a breath of fresh air. Felicity is a frighteningly dangerous element. Pippa speaks before she thinks, wounding without thinking. Ann is meek, but has a mean streak lurking from years of maltreatment. Often I wonder how Gemma can call them friends. And yet… they are.

I admire Pippa for her ultimate decision. She follows her fantasy–something few people in that age could do. Felicity has grown on me, and I want her to prove herself to be a true friend to Gemma. Ann… Ann I don’t entirely trust.

And Gemma? She’s way better than Harry Potter! I can’t wait to hear more from her–she’s like a friend telling me her own diary.

…and then there’s Kartik. Beautiful, sensual Kartik, who awakens a side of Gemma she has never known, never expected, never been warned of except to say no. Yum.

Edit 10/6: I left a comment on Libba Bray’s LJ asking the same questions. When I get some solid info, I’ll update this space. The latest post she made confirmed that the first draft has been completed. My guess is that it will be published sometime in 2007.


Written by Shen

August 1, 2006 at 2:51 pm

77 Responses

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  1. Do you have any idea when the final book to A Great and Terrible Beauty will come out? I’m dying to know.


    September 8, 2006 at 7:46 pm

  2. Oh! I’ve been wanting to know that too! I love these books. I thought I read somewhere that there is a fourth one.


    September 8, 2006 at 8:58 pm

  3. I can’t wait for the third one. It’s supposed to come out fall of 2007.


    September 17, 2006 at 1:21 pm

  4. There will only be three book. Because I read its going to be a trilogy somewhere.


    September 28, 2006 at 10:17 pm

  5. Does anyone know the exact release date? I’ve just re-read the first 2 to prepare for the final book. If anyone knows please let me know.


    October 4, 2006 at 8:53 pm

  6. I would REALLY like to know too, when the final book will be out. When word gets in, please let me know!!


    October 5, 2006 at 7:12 pm

  7. the third book is coming out in fall 07,but i read online that there might be a fourth one! that’d be awecome!!!!!!!!!!


    October 13, 2006 at 9:05 am

  8. ummm… yeah it comes out fall of 2007 and guess what the title is??…. THE SWEET FAR THING!!! well there it is. The last book of AGATB series. trilogy really.

    lynn lynn

    October 18, 2006 at 8:53 pm

  9. Does anyone noe the theme of this book?


    October 28, 2006 at 4:35 pm

  10. I really enjoyed reading these. I was also loaned the first one. My friend told me I HAD to read it. It’s sort of eerie, but leaves you wanting more. Can’t wait for book 3!!!


    November 1, 2006 at 8:05 pm

  11. The third book is called The Sweet Far Thing. I just found out from wikipedia


    November 11, 2006 at 11:52 am

  12. Wikipedia is not a reliable source.


    December 2, 2006 at 2:37 pm

  13. I absolutely love these books. So there is for sure a third one? I can’t wait…i wonder what the title has to do with anything…?


    December 8, 2006 at 8:37 pm

  14. The manuscript for book 3 in the trilogy is due December 15th. I like “The Sweet Far Thing” as a title for the book. It is sooooo much better than “Winterlands”.
    OMG. You must read Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. IT IS AWSOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    December 20, 2006 at 10:38 am

  15. i’m thinkin that Gemma and Kartik might get a bit closer in the 3rd book. i hope so. i can NOT read a book without a good romance. mb Gemme will horrify everyone by marrying kartik. heehee!!!!!!!


    January 2, 2007 at 3:28 am

  16. Libba Bray said on her live journal, that there will be an intense shirtless kissing scene in the third book!! Exciting much? Oh, and it’s with Kartik, and I’m assuming Gemma. It’s about time they figured out there sexual tension. lol


    January 10, 2007 at 3:56 pm

  17. im so excited for the third book!! its not coming out til the fall though, i need to read the first book though, i started w/ rebel angels and its my new favorite book!!!


    January 11, 2007 at 11:35 pm

  18. I saw that the book is supposed to be coming out September 25, 2007 πŸ™‚


    January 24, 2007 at 9:48 am

  19. YAY im soo excited this is the first ive heard about a 3rd book but i was really hoping there was one.. yay yall just made my night hah.. and yeah im doing a project so im trying to think of a theme… any ideas??


    January 29, 2007 at 9:37 pm

  20. dude, i read the book in 2 days, i got hooked. you guys have to read twiligh by stephenie myer. its one of my favorite. i’m reading it for the 15 time now.
    so the third book comes out in the fall? I CAN’T WAIT THAT LONG!


    February 22, 2007 at 10:16 pm

  21. these books are so addicting!! i read AGREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUT in 3 days and REBEL ANGELS in 2 days! i’m super excited about the third. i agree everyone NEEDS to read TWILIGHT AND the second one NEW MOON i’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the third one now i have to wait for THE SWEET FAR THING. oh this is so hard but i love it. haha. by far all four of those books are my favorite but so is THE BOOK THEIF you guys needa check that out out as well.


    February 28, 2007 at 1:23 pm

  22. Yeah. New Moon and Twilight are really good. Cant wait for The Sweet Far thing!!!!!!!!!!!!! There really needs to be some romance between Gemma and Kartik, Theyre perfect together and he’s just so sweet.


    March 3, 2007 at 1:47 pm

  23. Im so excited for the 3rd book! Every time I would go to Barns & Noble I would ask the people if any new books by Libba Bray had come out and I was disapointed everytime! But I just cant wait! I looooove A great & Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels there my all time favorite books :]


    March 8, 2007 at 11:58 pm

  24. OMG so excited and totally addicted!! third book in september?!? can’t wait that long! and A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY movie comes out in 2008? these are officially the best books of my life!


    March 17, 2007 at 9:12 am

  25. O man…I just finished the first and seconde one in thre days! I’m such a nerd…but a third one?? i’m dying here!!! It’s the best book I have read since twilight and new moon…wow.


    March 19, 2007 at 9:48 pm

  26. […] with the most comments: A Great & Terrible Beauty Posts found by the books’Β authors(!!): 2, Lambert’s Pride and She Woke Up […]

  27. omg!!! i love these books! i can’t believe we have to wait so long for the third one. i read the first two in 3 days! can’t wait!


    March 27, 2007 at 7:28 am

  28. umm the third book is coming out September 25 2007.


    April 3, 2007 at 11:21 pm

  29. Can you guys believe they are turning A Great and Terrible Beauty into a movie? Its supposed to come out in 2008.


    April 5, 2007 at 2:53 pm

  30. […] — Shen Git @ 4:48 pm Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty books seem to be HUGE. My own post keeps getting comments–and that’s how I know the […]

  31. I just found the third book on Amazon! I’m ordering it right now! I can’t wait to get it! It is called The Sweet and Terrible Thing!


    April 6, 2007 at 4:07 pm

  32. Sorry! It’s acually called the sweet far thing. My mistake, sorry.


    April 6, 2007 at 4:09 pm

  33. Gemma and Kartik better get together or I will be realy mad


    April 7, 2007 at 7:44 pm

  34. I want them to gat together too! It would be really sad if they didn’t


    April 16, 2007 at 11:31 am

  35. omg i cant wait for the next book to come out and i sooooo want it to become a movie!!the only bad part about it becoming a movie, is tht usualy when they make books movies they SCREW IT UP COMPLETELY!!!! but other than tht i sooooo hope to see it in theatres!


    April 18, 2007 at 5:17 pm

  36. OMG… I LOVE A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels!!!!!! I can’t wait for book 3!!!!!!!!!!!!! you MUST read Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment and Maximum Ride: School’s Out–Forever… they are my 3rd and 4th fav. (after A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels) they are by: James Patterson.


    May 3, 2007 at 9:46 am

  37. O and there r going to be 4 Maximum Rides at least


    May 3, 2007 at 9:47 am

  38. If you like A Great and Terrible Beauty you will LOVE Max Ride πŸ™‚


    May 3, 2007 at 9:49 am

  39. hey, don’t you think Libba Bray should make the series longer (even if it is a trilogy) every one who has read it LOVES it COME ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it should be like Harry Potter and have ALOT of book who’s w/ me???????????????????????????????????
    I no u r!!!!!!!!!!


    May 3, 2007 at 9:55 am

  40. is there really going to be a movie! i can’t wait! omg…omg…omg…omg… i love this book. if this movie sucks i will die omg it better b real.
    pinch me i’m dreaming!


    May 3, 2007 at 10:02 am

  41. i can’t wait for the third book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i hear there is a romantical shirt off ect…. part so lets hope… there reallly a movie coming out?? i hope they don’t mess it up like other books made into movies


    May 5, 2007 at 4:05 pm

  42. Wow, long thread you’ve got going here! Anyway, as of many of you have clarified already, the third and final book of the trilogy will be titled, “The Sweet Far Thing”. The release date is September 26, 2007 on and December 26, 2007 on

    And yes, the movie version has been announced as an upcoming feature film on several reliable sites, such as IMDb. Charles Sturridge has already finished at least the first draft of the screenplay. He is also to direct the film. There was a rumor making its way around the net that the production company co-owned by Mel Gibson had bought the rights to the film, though I don’t believe this to be true. AGATB’s page on IMDb states that the British company Firstsight Films will be producing. Another rumor I caught wind of was that the movie will be cast and shot entirely in the UK, but I don’t believe this to be true either. IMDb shows USA as the country, although I’m sure the cast will be largely British. My guess is that it will be shot primarily on a soundstage in LA. I’ll let you all know if I find any more information pertaining to the movie version of one of our favorite books!

    Oh, and keep in mind that all of the above information is subject to change, since the film is still in the early days of production.


    June 3, 2007 at 10:50 pm

  43. I cant believe they’re making a movie!!!! I totally cant wait until 2008! I bet it will be really good though. AGATB is like the best book every! I really have to thank my older sis for buying for me as a present! I cant wait until the 3rd one comes out! I bet theres gonna be something going on between Gemme and Kartik too!


    June 16, 2007 at 11:19 pm

  44. Who do you all think should be cast in the movie? I really cant think of many people that would be nearly as good as the character’s Libba Bray created.


    June 16, 2007 at 11:51 pm

  45. I think Keira Knightley would make an amazing Gemma, myself.

    (another) Brittany

    June 26, 2007 at 9:47 am

  46. in all honesty, coming from an actress, they should not cast an entirely british well known cast. keira knightley would be a fine person to portray an older character.. but you have to remember.. these girls are 16.. she couldn’t pull that off. the directors best bet is to cast unknown actresses, because they will be able to shape their talent to be exactly what they want it to be. With a name in the acting industry comes the expectations of the actor/actress. such as if u heard robin williams was in a movie, you expect it to be funny, if you see reese witherspoon, you also expect it to be funny. if you see a new name, you dont know what to expect, and won’t have an assumed idea of what they are going to be like.

    thats just my opinion.. look how well the unknown worlds is working for Nicole Blondsky, that girl who is starring in the Hairspray movie due out this summer


    July 1, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    • I disagree. If they cast all well known actors and actresses, people will see them as just the character they are known for playing. If they cast Kiera Knightly, people watching will only remember her as “that girl from pirates of the carribean”. I feel that they should cast unknown actors like Imogen Poots, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Allison Pill, and Felicity Jones. Those people look perfect for the part, and they can keeps the viewer’s attention.


      June 16, 2009 at 11:17 pm

  47. i bet gemma and kartik die. what a tragedy that would be. πŸ™‚


    August 21, 2007 at 6:05 pm

  48. i fell in love with A Great and Terrible Beauty and i just finished reading it.
    i didnt want to though…
    didnt want the story to end..

    it was really great though.
    cant wait to read the sequel


    August 25, 2007 at 7:30 pm

  49. ah!
    i wanted something to happen between Gemma and Kartik so badly!
    i freaked when they kissed…


    August 25, 2007 at 7:31 pm

  50. for the movie, i think that alexis bredel would make a perfect pippa, and rachel hurd-wood for gemma


    September 18, 2007 at 9:12 pm

  51. Just so you guys know, the 3rd book comes out Dec. 26th 2007. It comes out on the 1st in England!!! Not fair!


    October 11, 2007 at 8:26 pm

  52. I was just on, and it said that The Sweet Far Thing was going to be released DECEMBER 26, 2007, Which is it, is it already out or not!!! I’m Confused.


    October 15, 2007 at 10:30 am

  53. OMG! i really cant wait for a sweet far thing to come out! yeaaa i do think it comes out the 26, saw it on a website and well, its october now and i havnt heard anything about it. BUT I REALLYREALLYREALLYYYY HOPE THERE IS A 4TH ONE!


    October 25, 2007 at 1:09 pm

  54. The book is coming out December 26, 2007 for sure


    October 27, 2007 at 11:53 pm

  55. The 3rd book is coming out on December 26, 2007 for sure


    October 27, 2007 at 11:54 pm

  56. I think Gemma and Kartik are adorable together. I just hope that they won’t fall apart. As for the movie they better not mess it up like other book-turned movies.


    December 9, 2007 at 1:30 am

  57. the book cannot come out on the december 26th, because today is December 13th and i am holding right now


    December 14, 2007 at 12:03 am

  58. Hi Daisy,
    It’s possible you’ve got an ARC–an Advance Review Copy. If so, lucky you!!

    The book’s official release is definitely 12/26/07. All reputable sources (Amazon, B&N, Libba’s blog agree on this.

    Depending on how you came by your copy, I’d double-check that it’s legit.

    Shen Git

    December 14, 2007 at 8:17 pm

  59. wow im definatly in LOVE with the books! boxing day! i cant wait for the 3rd! πŸ˜€ im sooo pumped! πŸ™‚ kartick and gemma better get together! and does anybdoy knwo the cast for the movie? ro wehn its coming out?


    December 22, 2007 at 7:18 pm

  60. There are no cast for it yet, they almost chosed Rachel Hurd-Wood… but i dont think they did. I am so excited but i hope they choose good people 2 actually fit the characters. Im not really a romance person so i wouldnt want Gemma and Kartik 2 get together but i also wouldnt mind it either(I bet they do get though).


    January 1, 2008 at 4:24 pm

  61. I heard that in the 3rd one *sniffle* Kartik dies πŸ˜₯
    He’s my favorite charecter!!!


    January 24, 2008 at 9:24 pm

  62. And there had better be a 4th one!!!


    January 24, 2008 at 9:27 pm

  63. What in the world? It’s 2008 now and judging by these comments they said that this movie was coming out for 2 years now, I’m done waiting


    January 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm

  64. Okay I realize that this is supposed to be a trilogy and that i says in the “The Sweet Far Thing” that it is the last one but I feel like I’ve been left hanging. I mean the end with Gemma ( don’t want to ruin for anyone) is such a cliff hanger I want to know what happens with the realms and the girls. I also am feeling really gipt with the Katrick thing if you’ve finished it you’ll know what mean. I feel like writing Libba Bray and demanding another book they’re so good I don’t want it to end.


    February 1, 2008 at 2:05 pm

  65. omigoodness!!!!!! i haven’t read the 3rd 1 yet but if Kartik dies i will cry for a week!!!!!!! maybe longer!!!!!!!


    February 16, 2008 at 6:32 pm

  66. i no i want to write Libba Bray and demand for another book too. I just finished the third book this morning and want to read another one! ugh, i want to no wat happens with everything, it left off seeming like there could be another book.


    February 22, 2008 at 9:06 pm

  67. Ah, the 3rd book was amazingly glorious! I only wish I could write half so well. I did feel that the end was a bit inconclusive, though. Is the movie really coming out this year? I’ve heard absolutely nothing on it besides today.


    March 22, 2008 at 3:43 pm

  68. Grr. The third book makes me angry. The ending. It’s so.. Soo!
    Seriously, I read all THREE, pretty big books. And it ends like that. 😦
    Now I’m unbelievably depressed.
    And strangely, I’m still really glad I read the books. I want other people to read the books. Then it can drive them insane too.


    April 25, 2008 at 5:10 pm

  69. ha. oops “Soo” = Sad 😦


    April 25, 2008 at 5:11 pm

  70. I really hope they have auditions open to Canadians, because I’d LOVE to try out for the role of Ann. I’d like to be Gemma, but sadly, my eyes are blue and my hair is blond. Or maybe Felicity, but that doesn’t really math eitehr.

    Plus, I just really like Ann. πŸ™‚

    BTW, it’s called the Gemma Doyle TRILOGY. I don’t think there’s gonna be a fourth. Besides, what would she write about?? I mean, the ending of TSFT sort of ruined any chance for a fourth novel anyway.


    May 14, 2008 at 2:02 pm

  71. I agree with Sarah. They definitly canNOT cast Keira Knightley as being Gemma. Gemma in the story is sixteen, and Keira in real life is 23! That wouldn’t work at all.

    I haven’t decided yet who would be great as all of the cast yet, but i did choose someone for Pippa. I think Leighton Meester would be awesome for Pippa. I think that she would be just perfect.

    I can’t wait til the movie! They said 2008 which is now, but i’m thinking it’ll be out not until later in the year! (like november, december) πŸ™‚



    June 18, 2008 at 4:37 pm

  72. omg
    i like just order “a great and terrible beauty” online yesterday but then i found chap. 1 online so i read it and now i cant find the rest of the book cz i cant wait for the book 2 get here in the mail….i mean chapter 1 just leaves u with so many question but no 1 tell me what happens pleasei should be getting it 2mrro so i cant wait i plan 2 read all 3 of the books tho…ekkk i cant wait!!!! πŸ™‚

    ive never ben so interested in a book so quick…………hope its good i mean every1 says it is so my expectations r a little hi


    June 20, 2008 at 8:53 pm

  73. Natalie: if u really wanted 2 try out for the part of gemma u could alway get colored contacts and dye your hair brown if u really wanted 2

    and she is a pro writer i mean she could probally continue writing and write a 4th book if she wanted but im just saying its prossible cause thats like the main thing she does so she could probally continue but idk i mean i havent read the 3rd 1 yet sooo…….

    bre again

    June 20, 2008 at 9:15 pm

  74. I would LOVE to audition for the movie. I really want to audition for the role of Pippa, as she is my favorite character next to Gemma, who I would also be fun to try out for. I hope that Canadians have an oppertunity to audition for the movie as well!

    This is my favorite fantasy series yet!! It’s right up there with Harry Potter! πŸ˜€


    June 30, 2008 at 3:54 pm

  75. […] say how much I LOVE these books. I’m waiting on tenterhooks for the third in the trilogy and so is everyone else, it seems. In this book, the foursome has been reduced to three. The loss of Pippa is sorely felt, […]

  76. […] with the most comments: A Great & Terrible Beauty Posts found by the books’Β authors(!!): 2, Lambert’s Pride and She Woke Up […]

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