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.
Let’s start off by saying that I fell in love with Libba Bray’s writing style. A lot of times I was amazed how beautiful she could describe the simplest of things. She could make a frog seem attractive if she wanted to.
I started reading this story not really knowing anything, except that it takes place in London and it had something to do with a group of four girls. I loved going into this books without knowing anything more than that.
I didn’t expect the book to have a dark vibe to it, but I – for some reason – really like those kinds of books.
The story takes place in 19th century London. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book. The world building was great. I have no doubt London at that time was as gloomy and mysterious as described in this book.
The first half of the book went quite slow. There was a lot ‘building up’ going on. I was waiting and waiting for things to get on. It wasn’t until I reached about the middle of the book when things started to go down. I also have the bad habit of reading little bits and then wait for a long period before reading further. That may also be the reason why it seemed to go slow.
Other than that, I loved the story. The world building was great. The characters had depth. There were some plot twists I didn’t see coming. It was perfect!
I adored the cast of this story. Not because they were nice (they weren’t) but because they were all different and had their own stories to tell. I understand it could’ve come off as stereotypical to some readers, but I found them quite entertaining. They were surely not boring. I also enjoyed reading about the struggles of teenage girls, like having a crush and body issues.
Gemma was the most relatable character to me. Her character – all of the characters, really – could’ve easily been based off someone living in this time. Which is not that abnormal when you think of it. Our knowledge of the world has grown to this day. However, I don’t think we are totally different people than the ones that existed hundreds of years ago. It’s not like our brains have gotten bigger. It is the circumstances that made us see things in a different perspective. Do you get what I mean? I find it quite hard to put this into words.
I was convinced the four girls, Gemma, Ann, Felicity, and Pippa, did not feel like they could fully trust one another. It was also not to be this way, I think. Some had issues with this, but I didn’t. It came off as truthful and honest. To put your trust in someone to tell your darkest secrets and most private thoughts take a lot of courage and trust.
I really enjoyed this book! I am not overjoyed, but that could be because it wasn’t a feel good book. I think the darkness of this book had me under its spell for a little while longer. I definitely turned the last page thinking this was a really well-written book. Libba Bray is a wonderful author. I’ll definitely pick up one of her other books soon, after I read the hundred other books I want to read at this moment.
Thank you so much for reading!