Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty Introduction

By Libba Bray

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A Great and Terrible Beauty Introduction

Have you ever daydreamed about what you'd do with magical powers? Would you become invisible or use mind-control? Fly like Superman or transform yourself into a super model?

Personally, we'd pick D: All of the above.

And this is just what Gemma and her crew think, too, in A Great and Terrible Beauty, when they discover how powerful Gemma is. She can do pretty much anything she wants to… The only trouble is, should she?

This novel is the first book in The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray, and it takes place in 19th-century London, complete with balls, corsets, hankies with little initials embroidered on the corner, and horse poop lying around the streets. At the heart of the novel is a gang of rebellious teenage girls, itching for a way out of the stuffy cage of social conformity, who come into some seriously powerful magic. And when they do, they break all the major rules for being ladies—and for wielding magic—and find themselves kicking butt all over the place.

Libba Bray wrote A Great and Terrible Beauty for fun, so the fact that it went on to win a whole bunch of awards when it was published in 2005 is just the cherry on top. And hey—if you like this book as much as Shmoop likes sundaes, then you're in luck because there are two more that come after it.

In other words, we're just getting started when it comes to Gemma and her magical adventures.

What is A Great and Terrible Beauty About and Why Should I Care?

Let us paint you a picture: You're super popular and sitting at the popular kids' table in the lunch room, when out of the corner of your eye you see the new kid sitting by himself, quietly eating with his head down. The new kid seems kind of strange—definitely someone who marches to the beat of his own drum—but you also can't shake the feeling that he looks pretty lonely. Do you invite him to join you and your friends? Or do you try to put him out of your mind because he might tarnish your reputation a bit?

While you may not be able to relate to this exact scenario, we're willing to bet that it won't take long for you to think of a similar one that has totally happened in your own life. Because at the heart of this conundrum is power—and whether you've been the most popular kid in school or wished the most popular kid would just give you the time of day, chances are decent that you can relate to how, well, powerful power can be.

In A Great and Terrible Beauty, Gemma—our main character—comes to be pretty darn powerful herself. But since being powerful doesn't come with a built-in moral compass, figuring out how to wield her power presents Gemma with some seriously tough decisions—decisions that you'll be able to relate to and learn from, no matter how much power you feel like you have yourself.

And in case you were worried, when it comes to using her social power, Gemma definitely uses it to defend the underdog.


A Great and Terrible Beauty Resources


Libba Bray's Home on the Web
It's no surprise, but Bray's home base on the Internet is a strange and wonderful little place.

Bray's Blog
Bray's blog is really cool and insightful, and full of great stuff about writing and life.

Brief Trilogy Review
Check out this short and sweet review of the Gemma Doyle trilogy.

Random House
This is Bray's publisher's site for all things Gemma Doyle. Be sure to pop into the parlor for book trailers, quizzes, and more.

Articles and Interviews

Writers Write Interview
Bray is super interesting in her own right, and this is a great—and detailed—interview with her.

Short and Sweet
This is super short interview that asks Bray some key questions, like what supernatural power she'd like to have.

Twenty-One Things You Didn't Know About Bray
Fast facts about Bray, including a little story about the time she spent New Year's Eve in a wetsuit.


Odd Duck
Bray is down for pretty much anything, and she's got the videos to prove it.


Grab Your Headphones and Close Your Eyes
Let someone else read A Great and Terrible Beauty to you.


Photo + Interview
Here is a nice photo of our author, and an interview that covers her life, books, and more.

Photo of Bray
Look at Libba laughing.

Spence (Sorta)
This is what Spence might look like… dun dun dun.

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