Ah, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain. . . .
The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.
But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.
In this sequel to the Victorian fantasy A Great and Terrible Beauty, Gemma continues to pursue her role as the one destined to bind the magic of the Realms and restore it to the Order--a mysterious group who have been overthrown by a rebellion. Gemma, Felicity and Ann, (her girlfriends at Spence Academy for Young Ladies), use magical power to transport themselves on visits from their corseted world to the visionary country of the Realms, with its strange beauty and menace. There they search for the lost Temple, the key to Gemma's mission, and comfort Pippa, their friend who has been left behind in the Realms. After these visits they bring back magical power for a short time to use in their own world. Meanwhile, Gemma is torn between her attraction to the exotic Kartik, the messenger from the opposing forces of the Rakshana, and the handsome but clueless Simon, a young man of good family who is courting her. The complicated plot thickens when Gemma discovers a woman in Bedlam madhouse who knows where to find the Temple; Ann shows signs of being enamored of Gemma's loutish brother Tom, and their father's addiction to laudanum lands him in an opium den. A large part of the enjoyment of this unusual fantasy comes from the Victorian milieu and its restrictive rules about the behavior of proper young ladies, as contrasted with the unimaginable possibilities of the Realms, where Gemma has power to confront gorgons and ghosts and the responsibility to save a world. (Ages 12 and up) --Patty Campbell