Genres: ya; fantasy
Recommended for: If you like the sound of a magical fantasy set in the Victorian era with a secret magical order, young women rebelling against what society expects of them in whatever ways they can manage, female friendships that feel real, and wonderful writing and storytelling, I recommend this!
What it’s about:
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.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.
I still remember when this book was published, because it was way back when I was in middle or early high school and I first read about it in some teen magazine I was subscribed to. The cover was the first thing that caught my attention, and I then spent about a year trying to actually find a copy. When I finally did find it in a store, I actually attracted stares and embarrassed my grandma (who had taken me to the bookstore) because I gasped and squealed and clutched it to my chest.
I still have to fight the urge to react that way when I see a copy in a store, because this is one of my favorite books, ever. Over the last 13ish years, I’ve read this book again and again, and I always love it. I love the whole trilogy, but this first book stole my heart, and often my breath, and I try to get everyone to read it. This is kind of weird maybe, but I knew I was going to love it when I flipped it open and found an excerpt from one of my favorite poems in the first pages (“The Lady of Shallot” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson).
Libba Bray’s writing is amazing, her characters are so well developed, the relationships feel real, and it’s just a really great story, in my opinion. There’s magic, adventure, a bit of romance, strong female characters, and so much more! I highly recommend this book (and the other two in the trilogy).