I’ve never been one to do a reading challenge in order, and so this year’s first Read Harder book is for task #7, read a historical fiction not set in WWII. A Great and Terrible Beauty is set in Victorian England, a YA novel with some magical realism thrown in too. That made it a fun little read for my first book of the challenge. I’m not a fan of the horror genre but I do love books like this with a touch of darkness in them.
One of my favorite things about the book is that it is one of those historical fictions that acknowledge that women are neither a hive mind nor clones of each other who all want and think the exact same things. The protagonist, Gemma Doyle, and her friends all exist in the same world of girls who are required to marry whoever their parents choose and want no one else or nothing more but have very different problems within it. These problems stem from the same things that cause problems for women and girls today, the way we look and how much that changes our perceived worth to the world when matched up against the circumstances of our birth. To be a little more clear, am I pretty enough for a man to want me despite all the problem my family comes with as in-laws?
Whether the answer is yes or no still creates more problems of price or alternatives, even today. Nevertheless, the magical parts of the story give Gemma and her friends an idea for alternatives and it quickly becomes a lot more about what one might do to escape such dilemmas and price of our choices than even the darkness that haunts Gemma.
I loved every character and the bit of backstory and tragedy they all live with. I loved the subtle love interest that doesn’t take away from this story being about the girls and their dilemmas. I love the little revelations, even the predictable ones. I look forward to reading the rest of the series. I listened to the audiobook version, which has a great synopsis of the development of the book by the author.
For a few more ideas for Task #7, especially if you enjoy Victorian Englad and a little magic or monsters, try the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger (my review of the first novel here) or The Widows of Malabar Hill for 1921 India or The God of Small Things for 1969 India or The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness for 1970’s North Korea or Another Brooklyn for 1970’s US.