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Book: Girls unlock magic – The Concord Insider

Great and Terrible Beauty

By Libba Bray

(403 pages/available on Libby, young adult fantasy, 2003)

A genre blend of historical fantasy, the boarding school story, gothic, and coming of age, this book creates indeed a great and terrible beauty. Protagonist Gemma is shipped off to boarding school in England after the sudden and suspicious death of her mother. Gemma must learn to navigate her new social environment as she grapples with horrific visions brought on by her mother’s untimely death as well as dealing with the presence of a mysterious man who seems to have followed Gemma from her home in India to England. Guided by a vision, Gemma discovers a diary in a hidden cave near school grounds and begins unlocking secrets decades old of prophesy, illusion-weaving, and opening portals to other realms. She and her schoolmates start as playacting but soon discover their abilities and delight in the wonders of magic until misdeeds, deceit, and power both past and present threaten the girls and all the realms. Who can be trusted? How do individual lives weigh in the balance?

Here, magic and forces of good and evil share the stage with moral quandaries and the realities of the female existence in nineteenth century England. Hints of romance surface and the protagonist has to reevaluate all her perceptions of those whom she thinks she knows. Dark yet with strains of innocence and idealism, this book is an intriguing read and fun for readers of a variety of genres.

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Lindsey Hunterwolf