Audiobook Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible BeautyTitle: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Author: Libba Bray

Narrator: Josephine Bailey

Publisher: Simon & Schuster / Listening Library (audio)

Release Date: December 9th, 2003 (book) / January 16th, 2004 (audio)

Interest: Historical fiction / Supernatural / Author

Source: Audio borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads):

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 there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

Audio Review: At first the audio sounded a little robotic and canny, but after a short while I didn’t notice that anymore.  I ended up enjoying Josephine Bailey as the narrator, but I did think she sounded a little old to be acting as the voice of a sixteen year old girl.  Listening to Libba Bray’s beautiful writing out loud was quite a treat, however.

Book Review: A while back I posted about reading gaps and trying to read more historical fiction, which is one reason why I chose to read A Great and Terrible Beauty.  I like that this is historical fiction with a supernatural twist because it opens up the audience a little bit when I make book recommendations to my students.  I also decided to read this because I’ve only read The Diviners by Libba Bray and one of my good friends was reading and really enjoying it.

For the most part I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty.  I like Gemma’s character, I like the setting, and I like the plot.  But my feelings don’t stretch much beyond like.

This is the beginning of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, so I understand the amount of plot development taking place, but the story didn’t move fast enough.  There wasn’t enough happening to really keep me interested in the story.  The spiritual world is interesting, but too much time was spent building it up instead of getting into the dangers and the “what’s really going on” part of the story.

Like I said, I like Gemma’s character.  The other girls, however, aren’t developed enough.  The girls fall into the overdone roles of dull and boring, power hungry, beautiful and misunderstood, etc.  I wanted more from these girls.  Considering that A Great and Terrible Beauty is written in third person, I thought I would have known them more.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

I noticed these two issues when I read The Diviners.  I really like the story and the setting for that book, but again, I finished without knowing the characters well enough and the story was all over the place.  I’m afraid to give up on Libba Bray, but I’m starting to think maybe she isn’t an author for me.  Her writing is beautiful and vivid, and I know plenty of people who love her stories, but maybe I’m simply not her intended audience.


  1. I think we all have authors that strike is that way. Sometimes I just put a book down that doesn’t strike me and pick it up again thinking, “what was I thinking?”

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