It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India, to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception... read more
Gemma Doyle, the series' protagonist, is determined to leave India and return to London for an education and a proper upbringing. On her sixteenth birthday, Gemma and her mother are walking through the Bombay market when the two encounter a man and his younger brother. The man relays an... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Gemma Doyle, the series' protagonist, is determined to leave India and return to London for an education and a proper upbringing. On her sixteenth birthday, Gemma and her mother are walking through the Bombay market when the two encounter a man and his younger brother. The man relays an unknown message to Gemma’s mother about a woman named Circe, and Gemma's mother panics and demands that Gemma return home. Becoming angry at her mother’s secrecy, Gemma runs away, and has a vision of her mother committing suicide while searching for her, which she later learns is true. Gemma becomes haunted with the images of her mother’s death.
With her mother dead and her father’s growing addiction to laudanum, Gemma is shipped off to a finishing school near London, Spence Academy for Young Ladies. At first, Gemma is an outcast at the school; however, she soon finds the most popular and influential girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation that would ruin Felicity’s life. Gemma agrees not to tell Felicity’s secret and the girls soon form a strong friendship, along with Gemma’s roommate Ann, and Felicity’s best friend, Pippa. But Gemma is still tormented with her visions and is warned by the young man from the market, Kartik, a member of an ancient group of men known as the Rakshana, dating all the way back to Charlemagne, that she must close her mind to these visions or something horrible will happen.Something that she can never change or stop once it does.
During one of her visions Gemma is led into the caves that border the school grounds. There, she finds a diary written 25 years earlier by a 16-year-old girl named Mary Dowd who also attended Spence Academy and seemed to suffer from the same visions as Gemma, along with her friend, Sarah Reese-Toome. Through this diary, Gemma learns of an ancient group of powerful women called the Order and becomes convinced that her visions are linked to it. Members of the Order could open a door between the human world and other realms, help spirits cross over into the afterlife, and also possessed the powers of prophecy, clairvoyance, and what was considered the greatest force of all, the ability to weave illusions. Gemma, Felicity, Pippa and Ann decide to create their own Order in the caves to escape from the monotonous lives that they are expected to lead.
As the girls read further and further into the diary of Mary Dowd they realize that the actual Order existed at Spence Academy and that Mary was a part of it along with her best friend Sarah and the original Headmistress Eugenia Spence, who all died in a fire at the school in the East Wing. Gemma tells her friends the truth about her powers and together they travel to the realms. There Gemma finds her mother alive and well, and the girls find that they can achieve their hearts’ desires. Gemma wishes for self-knowledge, Felicity for power, Pippa for true love and Ann for beauty. The girls continue to sneak out to the caves in the middle of the night and visit the realms. However, Gemma’s mother warns them not to take the magic back into their own world, for if the magic leaves the realms, the evil sorceress Circe will be able to find Gemma and will kill her, leaving the realms unguarded.
The girls listen to Gemma’s mother, but after a time they are no longer content to only have power in the realms. The girls decide to take the magic back with them and have fun around the school with it, but find out that the magic is also evil. Then, Gemma learns that Mary Dowd’s best friend Sarah is actually Circe, and that the two of them had committed an unspeakable crime together: they killed the daughter of Mother Elena - the gypsy - Carolina. Shocked, Gemma also learns that Sarah never died in the fire. Searching desperately for a photo of Sarah and Mary, Gemma finds the picture in the school behind the photo of the class of 1872, and is shocked to see her mother's face with the name Mary Dowd under it.
After Gemma confronts her mother, she confesses that she was once a member of the Order and escaped the fire thinking the others had died. The only way for her to ever be at peace is for Gemma to forgive her. When Gemma and the other girls go back to the realms they realize that something is not right and before they can leave, the creature that killed Gemma’s mother shows up. Pippa runs off and Gemma does not have time to help her, so she takes Ann and Felicity back and while Pippa is trapped underwater.
When they come back to the real world, Pippa has a seizure (she suffers from Epilepsy) and Gemma knows she must go back into the realms to try to save her and bring her back. When she gets to the realms, she finds the creature instead of Pippa and must battle with it. Gemma begins to feel like she will lose and be corrupted by the creature, and when she believes that it is the end she thinks about her mother and forgives her. This act kills the creature and at the same time allows her mother to cross over. Gemma then goes to find Pippa, but Pippa refuses to return to a world where she is to marry a man she doesn’t love and to a society that will never see her as anything more than a pretty face. Instead she chooses to remain in the realms and cross over into the spirit world. Gemma returns to Spence on her own and finds that Pippa has died. Gemma, Felicity, and Ann attend Pippa’s funeral, with Kartik watching from afar. Gemma approaches him and tells him that it has only just begun, that she will not give up her powers and that there is no going back.
In July, 2006, Icon Productions, the film production company run by Mel Gibson, announced that it would adapt the book into a film based on A Great and Terrible Beauty, to be written and directed by Charles Sturridge. People have been rumored to be playing the characters, but author Libba Bray has confirmed that no one has been cast. Author Libba Bray discusses the current status of the film on her webpage. Bray recently announced that Icon relinquished the rights of the film, and so the film version of the book will not be made in any foreseeable circumstances.
“I'm running because I can, because I must. Because I want to see how far I can go before I have to stop.”Narrator - Gemma Doyle
“I've heard it said that God is in the details. It's the same with the truth. Leave out the details, the crucial heart, and you can damn someone with the bare bones of it.”Narrator - Gemma Doyle
“In every end, there is also a beginning.”Mademoiselle Lefarge
“Shall I tell you a story? A new and terrible one? A ghost story? Are you ready? Shall I begin? Once upon a time there were four girls....”Felicity Worthington
“Would you give Polly a message for me, miss? Could you tell her that Reggie will always love her, and I've still got the muffler she knit for me that Christmas before I left? It held up fine, it did.”
“I don't yet know what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I'm beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It's not that they want to protect us; it's that they fear us.”
“May I suggest you all read? And often. Believe me, it's nice to have something to talk about other than the weather and the Queen's health. Your mind is not a cage. It's a garden. And it requires cultivating.”Miss Moore
“"In London, I hear you don't have to derange your meals first."”Gemma Doyle
You can never really know someone completely. That’s why it’s the most terrifying thing in the world, really—taking someone on faith, hoping they’ll take you on faith too. It’s such a precarious balance, it’s a wonder we do it at all.Highlighted by 57 Kindle customers
But forgiveness . . . 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.Highlighted by 52 Kindle customers
Your mind is not a cage. It’s a garden. And it requires cultivating.Highlighted by 42 Kindle customers
We’re all looking glasses, we girls, existing only to reflect their images back to them as they’d like to be seen. Hollow vessels of girls to be rinsed of our own ambitions, wants, and opinions, just waiting to be filled with the cool, tepid water of gracious compliance.Highlighted by 35 Kindle customers
But we can’t live in the light all of the time. You have to take whatever light you can hold into the dark with you.”Highlighted by 24 Kindle customers
I’ll never have what she has—a beauty so powerful it brings things to you. I fear I will always have to chase the things I want. I’ll always have to wonder whether I’m truly wanted or whether I’ve just been settled for.Highlighted by 22 Kindle customers
I’ve heard it said that God is in the details. It’s the same with the truth. Leave out the details, the crucial heart, and you can damn someone with the bare bones of it.Highlighted by 21 Kindle customers
I don’t yet know what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us.Highlighted by 15 Kindle customers
Dans chaque fin, il y a un début.” My translation skills aren’t quite up to this one. “In the end, also, is a debutante?” Mademoiselle LeFarge shakes her head. “In every end, there is also a beginning.”Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
“‘I change the world; the world changes me.’”Highlighted by 5 Kindle customers
Especially in later books in the series, some suggested sexuality. This book is definitely geared towards young adults age 16 and up. It addresses dark magic and discusses sexuality often. There are some graphic almost-sex scenes.
We’re hiding the table of contents, glossary entries, errata, contributors, links to supplemental material, movie connections, books with additional background information, books that influenced this book, books that cite this book and books cited by this book sections. If you would like to add content to them, you must first make them visible.