Gemma Doyle Trilogy:
A Great and Terrible Beauty (2003)
Rebel Angels (2005)
The Sweet Far Thing (2007)
Synopsis of A Great and Terrible Beauty:
Gemma Doyle isn’t like other girls. Girls with impeccable manners, who speak when spoken to, who remember their station, and who will lie back and think of England when it’s required of them.
No, sixteen-year-old Gemma is an island unto herself, sent to the Spence Academy in London after tragedy strikes her family in India. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma finds a chilly reception. But she’s not completely alone… she’s been followed by a mysterious young man, who warns her to close her mind against the visions.
For it’s at Spence that Gemma’s power to attract the supernatural unfolds; there she becomes entangled with the school’s most powerful girls and discovers her mother’s connection to a shadowy group called the Order. It’s there that her destiny waits… if only she can believe in it.
A Great and Terrible Beauty is a curl-up-under-the-covers kind of book… a vast canvas of rustling skirts and dancing shadows and things that go bump in the night. It’s a vividly drawn portrait of the Victorian age, when girls were groomed for lives as rich men’s wives… and the story of a girl who saw another way.
I’ve chosen to include only the synopsis of the first novel in the Gemma Doyle trilogy because the other synopsis of the series may provide spoilers.
I first started this series back in 2008 but only made it through to the second book in the trilogy. For reasons that I can’t recall, I never made it to the third novel. Based on my own forgetfulness and the timing of its release, I can safely assume that it was because I forgot about it as I was busy with my undergraduate life around that time. Nevertheless, I always meant to complete the trilogy as it felt weird to leave it unfinished. I did notice on Goodreads that only a third of the readers made it from the first book to the third book in the trilogy.
While I did enjoy the genre – period fiction and fantasy – my biggest issues with the series were the friendships within the novels. And I use the word “friendship” in its very loose terms. Gemma, comes to Spence Academy from India with no friends and she doesn’t quite fit in. Along the way, she “befriends” the charity girl who is her roommate even though this girl, Ann, does not quite care to be friends. Gemma also gets into little conflicts with the popular girls (of course) and through a series of events, manages to get in with the popular girl and her best sidekick. Both of whom are bullies, manipulative, and selfish. Yet these four girls – Gemma, Ann, Felicity, and Pip – become “best friends”; all the while betraying, fighting, manipulating, and using one another in petty ways. They’re constantly taking sides and turning on each other throughout all three books. And while some series thrive on this sort of catty friendship dynamics, at least they call it what it is. In this novel, I was genuinely thrown off every time Gemma refers to these girls as her best friends. It seemed out of character with who we’re presented with at the start of the novel when she’s more concerned with staying true to herself and not giving in to the peer pressure.
Taking the friendship aspect out of the novel, you take away the essence of the books. But if you delve into the other themes – good vs evil, morality, temptation, free will vs fate, choice – there are still redeeming qualities to the novels. Set in a period of more conservative societal expectations, we glimpse into the lives of these girls who are not willing to just allow society to dictate their lives. We find ourselves rooting for these girls to be true to who they are despite everything else working against them.
Would I recommend this series to others? In my opinion, there are much better series within these genres that you could read instead. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, and Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha trilogy or Six of Crows duology, just to name a few.