Gemma Doyle is the heroine of Libba Bray's novels A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing.

In Rebel Angels, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann make anagrams of their names. Gemma's name became something like Emma Godley. In A Great and Terrible Beauty, the housekeeper at Spence, Brigid, becomes very uncomfortable when Gemma's eyes stir up the memory of Virginia, then called Mary Dowd. Gemma is seen as The Hope of the New Order.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Gemma lived most of her life in India. In June 1895, Gemma's mother, Virginia Doyle, dies, leaving Gemma with her strange amulet in the shape of the Crescent Eye, and the Doyle family moves back to England. Gemma, then only sixteen, is sent to Spence Academy rather abruptly. Her first friend there is roommate and scholarship student Ann Bradshaw, and shortly after, she meets witty and wealthy Felicity Worthington and the beautiful, but shallow, Pippa, at that time Felicity's best friend. All four girls strike up a rather unconventional relationship as they find themselves entangled in the mysterious Order.


A Great and Terrible Beauty[edit | edit source]

Shortly after the death of her mother, Gemma starts having strange visions that show her frightening images. Gemma Doyle, the series' protagonist, is determined to leave India and return to London for an education and a proper upbringing. On her sixteenth birthday, Gemma and her mother are walking through the Bombay market when the two encounter a man and his younger brother. The man relays an unknown message to Gemma’s mother, who panics and demands that Gemma return home. Becoming angry at her mother’s secrecy, Gemma runs away, and has a vision of her mother committing suicide while searching for her, which she later learns is true. Gemma becomes haunted with the images of her mother’s death.

With her mother dead and her father’s growing addiction to laudanum, Gemma is shipped off to a finishing school near London, Spence Academy for Young Ladies. At first, Gemma is an outcast at the school; however, she soon finds the most popular and influential girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation that would ruin Felicity’s life. Gemma agrees not to tell Felicity’s secret and the girls soon form a strong friendship, along with Gemma’s roommate Ann, and Felicity’s best friend, Pippa. But Gemma is still tormented with her visions and is warned by the young man from the market, Kartik, a member of an ancient group of men known as the Rakshana, dating all the way back to Charlemagne,that she must close her mind to these visions or something horrible will happen.

During one of her visions Gemma is led into the caves that border the school grounds. There, she finds a diary written 25 years earlier by a 16-year-old girl named Mary Dowd who also attended Spence Academy and seemed to suffer from the same visions as Gemma, along with her friend, Sarah Reese-Toome. Through this diary, Gemma learns of an ancient group of powerful women called the Order and becomes convinced that her visions are linked to it. Members of the Order could open a door between the human world and other realms, help spirits cross over into the afterlife, and also possessed the powers of prophecy, clairvoyance, and what was considered the greatest force of all, the ability to weave illusions. Gemma, Felicity, Pippa and Ann decide to create the New Order in the caves to escape from the monotonous lives that they are expected to lead.

As the girls read further and further into the diary of Mary Dowd they realize that the actual Order existed at Spence Academy and that Mary was a part of it along with her best friend Sarah and the original Headmistress Eugenia Spence, who all died in a fire at the school in the East Wing. Gemma tells her friends the truth about her powers and together they travel to the realms. There Gemma finds her mother alive and well and the girls find that they can achieve their hearts’ desires. Gemma wishes for self-knowledge, Felicity for power, Pippa for true love and Ann for beauty. The girls continue to sneak out to the caves in the middle of the night and visit the realms. However, Gemma’s mother warns them not to take the magic back into their own world, for if the magic leaves the realms, the evil sorceress Circe will be able to find Gemma and will kill her, leaving the realms unguarded.

The girls listen to Gemma’s mother, but after a time they are no longer content to only have power in the realms. The girls decide to take the magic back with them and have fun around the school with it, but find out that the magic is also evil. Then, Gemma learns that Mary Dowd’s best friend Sarah is actually Circe, and that the two of them had committed an unspeakable crime together: they killed the daughter of Mother Elena - the gypsy - Carolina. Shocked, Gemma also learns that Sarah never died in the fire. Searching desperately for a photo of Sarah and Mary, Gemma finds the picture in the school behind the photo of the class of 1872, and is shocked to see her mother's face with the name Mary Dowd under it.

After Gemma confronts her mother, she confesses that she was once a member of the Order and escaped the fire thinking the others had died. The only way for her to ever be at peace is for Gemma to forgive her. When Gemma and the other girls go back to the realms they realize that something is not right and before they can leave, the creature that killed Gemma’s mother shows up. Pippa runs off and Gemma does not have time to help her, so she takes Ann and Felicity back and leaves Pippa there.

When they come back to the real world, Pippa has a seizure (she suffers from Epilepsy) and Gemma knows she must go back into the realms to try to save her and bring her back. When she gets to the realms, instead of Pippa, she finds the creature and becomes locked in a struggle with it. Gemma feels that she will lose and be corrupted by the creature, and when she believes that it is the end she thinks about her mother and forgives her. This act kills the creature and Gemma’s mother once and for all. Gemma finds Pippa, but Pippa refuses to return to a world where she is to marry a man she doesn’t love, to a society that will never see her as anything more than a pretty face. Instead she chooses to remain in the realms and cross over into the spirit world. Gemma returns to Spence on her own and finds that Pippa has died. Gemma, Felicity, and Ann attend Pippa’s funeral, with Kartik watching her. She approaches him and tells him that it is only the beginning, that she will not give up her powers and that there is no going back.


Rebel Angels[edit | edit source]

Later on in Rebel Angels, Pippa becomes corrupted by the realms and goes off to the Winterlands, forever leaving behind her friends. So far, Circe has not succeeded in her goal of taking over the Realms and harnessing the power there, and, in Rebel Angels is imprisoned in the Cave of Sighs forever. At the end of Rebel Angels, Gemma has a new mission--to piece together a New Order, one free of corruption and with new members, much to the chagrin of former Order priestesses like Claire McCleethy.


The story picks up two months after the events in the first book. The opening chapter is narrated by Kartik, who has been brought before a council of the Rakshana. He is told that by destroying the Runes, Gemma released the magic, making it available to all the creatures in the realms, including the evil Circe and her allies in the Winterlands. Kartik is charged with helping Gemma find the Temple in the realms, where the magic can be bound by the Rakshana, and when that is successfully completed he is to kill her. .

The rest of the story is narrated by Gemma, in the present tense. Gemma is told by Kartik that she must find a "Temple" in the realms to bind the magic "in the name of the Eastern Star"; unbeknownst to Gemma, saying that line would give the Rakshana the power.

At Christmas break, Gemma leaves the Spence School and goes to her family's home in London, where she has never been before. Gemma's brother Tom is late to pick her up at the train station. Gemma believes a member of the Rakshana is following her. She runs up to a young man and pretends she knows him, under the pretense that the other man following her will go away. The young man turns out to be Simon Middleton, a young aristocrat who is immediately smitten by her. Middleton invites her and her family to dinner, and he begins a courtship of Gemma.

Gemma finds out that her brother attended Eton with Simon. Gemma runs into Miss Moore, her former art teacher who mentored her at Spence, and who has now taken a flat in London. A new teacher turns up at Spence, Miss McCleethy, whom Gemma suspects is Circe. At Bethlem Royal Hospital (ie., "Bedlam"), where Tom works, one of his patients is a girl named Nell Hawkins, who murmurs of the Temple. Gemma visits her, and through Nell's ramblings, she begins putting together clues as to the location of the Temple. She also discovers that Nell was a student at a finishing school that Miss McCleethy had taught at before coming to Spence, as well as three other girls whose terrible fate Gemma repeatedly envisions. Together with Ann and Felicity, they meet up with their deceased friend Pippa, who has remained in the realms, and they try to locate the Temple.

Ann has gone to stay with Felicity for the holidays, and with Felicity's assistance, parades around pretending to be Russian nobility. Ann hopes this will impress Tom, among others, whom she has fallen in love with. Felicity's mother returns from Paris, and gossip is all about. After Felicity's parents take in her orphaned cousin,Polly, as a ward, Felicity tells Polly to lock her doors and "not let Uncle in"; Gemma surmises that her friend was molested by her father as a little girl. Gemma must also tend to her father, who is taken ill several times and is eventually placed in a rehab sanatorium.

The Sweet Far Thing[edit | edit source]

Gemma and Kartik finally admit their feelings and have a romantic relationship. As a result, Kartik agrees to let Gemma show him the realms. They place their hands inside a special circle in the Cave of Sighs, which gives them the ability to appear in each other's dreams. At the very end of the series, Gemma decides to go to Am erica to make an independent life for herself.

Throughout the series, Gemma struggles with her fears that she does not fit in anywhere and that she is truly loved and valued by no one. She has strained relationships with her strict, critical grandmother, her brother, who is interested mainly in social climbing, and her father, who tries to avoid painful memories of his wife by using drugs.


It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the Realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.

The Order—the mysterious group her mother was once part of—is grappling for control of the Realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence's burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

Plot Summary[edit | edit source]

The prologue begins with two men who are searching a river in London (three years before the events of the book) for dead bodies to fence any jewelry or money left upon them. They come across the body of a girl wearing a crescent moon amulet identical to Gemma's own.

At Spence academy Gemma struggles to open the Realms. Pressure builds on her as her friends plot to use her magic to alter the courses of their lives. But after much struggling Gemma finds a backdoor-like entry into the Realms. By touching a mysterious stone unearthed during the reconstruction of the east wing of Spence Gemma can enter the Realms. There Gemma, Felicity, and Ann find Pippa among a group of girls she claims to have saved from entering the Winterlands. Pippa leads the group of girls and attempts to teach them manners in a similar fashion that she was taught at Spence.

Pippa asks Gemma to help her cross over from the Realms into a heaven-like area but finds that she cannot because she has been in the Realms too long. This causes her a great deal of distress and a guilt-ridden Gemma begins giving her an allowance of magic to help her get through the sadness.

After a three month absence, Kartik finds Gemma at Spence Academy to tell her that their destinies should not cross again. Heartbroken, Gemma angrily stomps off, trying to appear aloof. A later meeting at a boat dock in London crushes Gemma's hope that they could be together. Kartik enlists as a sailor for the HMS Orlando as an escape from Gemma and the Rakshana. He refuses to reveal to Gemma the details of his business with the Rakshana or what he will do beyond being a sailor. Despite his coldness, Gemma continues to long for his touch. While waiting for his boat to come in, Kartik lives with the gypsies and helps Gemma arrange a meeting with the Rakshana. The topic of the meeting was her brother Tom, whom the Rakshana was trying to enlist in the club. The meeting was cut short by Mr. Fowlson, a loyal Rakshana member, who unsuccessfully tried to capture Kartik and Gemma. The cost for their safe escape was Mr. Fowlson's discovery that Gemma did indeed have the magic, unlike what she had said to him previously.

At the peak of her tolerance, Gemma finally gave in to her visions and tried to follow the clues left by a mysterious girl in a characteristic lavender dress. This leads her to an illusionist who informs Gemma that this girl lived at Spence during her mothers time there. On a whim Gemma and her troupe of girls venture into the winterlands to find The Tree of All Souls. When they find it they all place their hands upon its bark and see different 'visions'. Gemma alone had a talk with Eugenia Spence who informed her more of the girl in the lavender dress. She also learns that the girl had in possession a dagger which posed a threat to the Winterland creatures.

Then Gemma tries to battle the Tree of All Souls, which was evil all along. Kartik professes his love for Gemma in the Cave of Sighs, and sacrifices himself to the tree when Gemma was being drawn inside, and afterwards, Gemma is victorious. Mr. Doyle, Gemma's father. also moves back to India, and Gemma decides to travel to America and attend university. The final chapter ends with Gemma waking in a flat in New York City, having just dreamed of Kartik, looking hopefully towards the future.

Personality[edit | edit source]


Physical Description[edit | edit source]

Gemma is considered to be quite pretty, but no beauty, and is tall for a girl her age. She has pale brows and freckles and describes herself as having the shoulders of a boy. Her hair is red-gold and usually worn properly in a schoolgirl's bun. Her most distinctive feature is her set of brilliant glass-green eyes, which are inherited from her mother.

Powers & Abilities[edit | edit source]


Relationships[edit | edit source]

Kartik[edit | edit source]

Unique in Gemma's life is her relationship with Kartik, a member of the mysterious Rakshana who is apparently trying to protect her. In Rebel Angels, Kartik's true assignment--to have Gemma bind the magic of the Realms in the name of the Rakshana, then kill her--is discovered by Gemma, who believes that he has betrayed her. Kartik, however, insists that he never would have done it and proves his honesty by helping Gemma escape the Rakshana when they imprison her, causing him to become one of their enemies and forcing him to turn his back on everything he has ever known. In the books, it is evident that Gemma and Kartik both feel something beyond their platonic relationship, but as Kartik is Indian and Gemma is a proper English young lady, she would be sacrificing her and her family's reputation if she chooses to be with him.

Kartik is a member of the Rakshana and is given the task of watching Gemma Doyle. Gemma has a crush on Kartik and later turns into a relationship in Rebel Angels. Kartik sadly dies is The Sweet Far Thing.

Family[edit | edit source]

Gemma is the daughter of John Doyle and the late Virginia Doyle. She is the sister of Thomas Doyle. Gemma has strained relationships with her strict, critical grandmother, her brother, who is interested mainly in social climbing, and her father, who tries to avoid painful memories of his wife by using drugs. Gemma is very close to her mother. Her mother has always put her relationship with Gemma first, although it's very clear that she wants Gemma to be independent.

Ann Bradshaw[edit | edit source]

Ann is Gemma's roommate and one of her best friends. The two became friends because Ann had no friends and was her room-mates. When she was asked to be friends with Felicity and Pippa, Gemma said yes only under the condition that they would befriend Ann, too. Their friendship later became real. They bonded, come to love each other.

Felicity Worthington[edit | edit source]

Felicity is one of Gemma's best friends. Felicity has a strong sense of loyalty; when forced to permanently choose sides in The Sweet Far Thing, Felicity stays with Gemma and Ann even though Pippa is on the opposing side.

Pippa Cross[edit | edit source]

Pippa is one of Gemma's friends. Pippa has a weak friendship with Gemma. Pippa has a stronger friendship with Felicity than anyone.

Cecily Temple[edit | edit source]

Cecily Temple is Gemma, Ann and Felicity's rival. Cecily is very conceited and snobbish and thinks very poorly of Gemma.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Gemma's first name means "jewel". Her surname, Doyle, comes from the Irish language Ó Dubhghaill, or "descendent of Dubhghall". The word Dubhgall, as it were, is Gaelic for "dark stranger". Gemma's full name, then, means "jewel who is descended from a dark stranger".
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.