Better Than “Twilight”

Book Review: Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy

Pictured: "A Great and Terrible Beauty," the first installment in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy.

By Luc Gross

Staff Writer

If you’re like me, you are sick to death of Twilight Mania. When I first saw what a phenomenon the Twilight saga was turning into, I read the first book. I have a daughter, and I like knowing what kind of literature is offered to young girls, because one day, she too will be reading the likes of Stephanie Meyers. When I read Twilight I was disgusted and appalled at the story content (not to mention the abhorrent writing, but that’s another topic for discussion).

Basically we have a nobody girl in a new school who doesn’t become anything until she has a super cool boyfriend, who also happens to be a 100 year-old man in a 17-year-old body. If that’s not enough to make you throw up a little in your mouth, I don’t know what is. So, Bella doesn’t amount to much or anything and doesn’t think much of herself, in fact, she’s absolutely self-loathing. Edward is mean and picks on her all the time. Sure sounds like a recipe for love to me; exactly the kind of relationship I would want my teenage daughter to be vying for.

I read on and ended up finishing the entire four book Meyers series. I borrowed copies from coworkers so I wouldn’t have to financially further the career of the woman peddling this romance-novel trash. Throughout the entire 2,379 pages were tired anti-woman sentiments that include marriage and children before age 20, and defined teenage girls as only caring about having a boyfriend, or recklessly endangering themselves for the love of a boy. Bella is the wrong poster girl for this generation. Thankfully for feminists and feminist mothers who don’t want their daughters reading the pointless and brainless drivel of Ms. Meyers, there is an alternative.

Libba Bray is author to the Gemma Doyle trilogy which includes A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. These novels are set in 1895. After the death of her mother, Gemma Doyle is transported from her home in India, to the foreboding Spence Academy in Victorian England. Throughout this first book Gemma questions the unfairness of her “education” in comparison to her brother, Tom, as well as other injustices that women were facing at the time.

A fiery redhead, who has not yet been schooled in the proper English fashion, Gemma is out of place among her peers at the academy. Prone to visions that have a habit of coming true, she lives as an outcast for the first few weeks. Over time, Gemma makes friends with Felicity, the most popular and influential girl in school; Pippa, the most beautiful and best friend of Felicity; and Ann, a girl who attends Spence on scholarship and is easily the most unpopular girl in school.

Early on, they discover that they have secret abilities that lead them into an alternate realm of existence. In these realms, the girls are able to do and create anything their hearts desire. But after disaster strikes, they must decide whether or not entering the realms is safe anymore.

In book two, we come in at Christmas time when the girls get to visit family and friends in London, as well as spend time with their dear teacher, Sarah Moore. The rich backdrop is beautifully described so that the reader is transported to the snow-capped roof tops of London. Gemma cares for her laudanum-addicted father and tries to reconcile her differences with her demanding grandmother. She also uncovers more mysteries in this installment that will lead her to uncovering the true identity of her greatest opponent, Circe.

In the final installment, Gemma and her friends prepare for their London debut. Gemma has made some unlikely alliances in the realms and must test those bonds. Have the lessons they’ve learned prepared them for the trails that lie ahead, both in the realms, and in the real world?

If you’re tired of hearing about two-dimensional vampires and their weak and waiting damsels, grab a copy of Libba Bray’s trilogy, and relish in a female protagonist that actually has balls.

From the trades:

“A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy–jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.” –

“A huge work of massive ambition.” – Starred Review, Publisher’s Weekly

“This is a rare treat that offers a bit of everything–romance, magic, history, Gothic intrigue–and delivers on all of it.” – People

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