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.
Gemma, 16, 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 knew very little about this book when I started reading it, well accept that it had a beautiful cover, which I love. However I did feel it was one of those unfortunate cases where the story just didn't quite do the beautiful cover-art justice. It's not that it was a bad book...it's just that it wasn't great. There were to many little issues that prevented me from really suspending belief and immersing myself in the story.
One of the things that bothered me about this book was that it never really explained why or how Gemma was the missing link to the 'other' realm. Also while the book claimed to be set in the 16th century Victorian era, it didn't ever convince me that it was. At the beginning of the book, when Gemma runs off alone in the market place felt wrong as well, why hadn't her servant followed her? Whilst it was clearly an effort to get the book moving quickly it just didn't seem right.
The story of the four girls becoming friends, Gemma, Ann, Pippa and Felicity felt a little contrived but in the end it works well. None of the girls are particularly likeable but you could understand that each one is trapped by Victorian attitudes about what a lady should be.
I have the feeling that the issues I had with the writing would improve in the follow-on novels and I am intrigued about where the story will go from here. I will probably read the second book in the series later in the year however it won't be at the top of my TBR Pile.