We recommend a lot of new books here, but I’d like to recommend an older series today that I love: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing). TGDT takes place over a single year in Victorian England and I would classify it as “historical fantasy.” The series follows its main characters, Gemma Doyle, Felicity Worthington, Pippa Cross and Ann Bradshaw down a wild rabbit hole into “the realms” of dreams and nightmares. The series is worth a read on its own, but I have an ulterior motive for recommending it today.
You may remember that I’ve recommended Libba Bray’s work in The Diviners series before. The Diviners takes place in the 1920s and focuses on a group of supernaturally gifted young people known as “Diviners.” Bray’s attention to detail is fastidious and as the mystery unfolds in Lair of Dreams, a character from the past reappears, if only for a brief moment.
The character is almost certainly, Gemma Doyle and she is overheard discussing her friend Felicity. The moment has no impact on the plot of Lair of Dreams, but it’s hard to dismiss it as insignificant. In mentioning Gemma and Felicity, a whole new aspect of worldbuilding is suggested that may have an impact on the world of The Diviners. And that’s a good thing, because the world of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy is every bit as compelling, creepy and fantastic as Bray’s newer series.
Reading back now, a cohesive fantasy world between the two series is brilliant and makes tons of sense. A Great and Terrible Beauty (the first book in TGDT), starts in India, where Gemma’s mother dies in the first chapters of the book. Gemma is almost immediately shipped back to England to attend boarding school at her mother’s alma mater, Spence Academy. Once there, she is met with a rather chilly reception. The girls at the academy have a well established social hierarchy with years of history behind them and aren’t friendly to newcomers.
Eventually, Gemma forces her way into the confidences of the most popular girls in school, Pippa and Felicity. Their relationship grows, based on secrets and manipulations, and they grudgingly include Gemma’s roommate Ann in their circle. Amidst this social maneuvering, Gemma is plagued by dreams and visions, which eventually lead her to a secret cave, where she finds a diary that leads all four girls into a fantastical other world, where dreams and nightmares alike can come true.
All the while, Gemma is being followed by a mysterious young Indian man, who seems to want to warn her of danger. As the story grows and Gemma’s mother’s secrets are slowly revealed, it becomes apparent that the other world the girls have stumbled upon is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Furthermore, everything that happens there is very real and the consequences will carry into the real world.
Like The Diviners, TGDT is meticulously detailed in terms of historical detail. Bray is an excellent researcher and is able to seamlessly merge historical accuracy with fantastic worldbuilding. TGDT has the same gothic otherworldliness as The Diviners. It’s not quite horror, but Bray doesn’t shy away from the terrifying aspects of her fantasy world.
I have no idea if the events of TGDT will have any bearing on The Diviners series. It would be interesting to see the characters from TGDT as adults, but merging the two series might be a bit complicated for Bray’s already complex ensemble narrative. Even if that brief moment in Lair of Dreams is only a nod to the fact that the two series exist in the same worldbuilding framework, I think it’s worth it to read TGDT while you wait for the next installment of The Diviners.
Anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, with a gothic twist will enjoy The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and The Diviners alike. If you’ve never read either series, I think you’re in for a treat. If I may make a suggestion, don’t read before bed, unless you want to find Bray’s world in your nightmares.
Allison Carr Waechter is ready for spring. Aren’t you?