It is Gemma’s 16th birthday and she is walking through the streets of Bombay, India with her mom and their servant, Sarita. She is complaining about wanting to go to London to be a proper lady. A man, Amar, bumps into them and tells her mother that Circe is near. There is a younger man with him who is closer to Gemma’s age. Gemma’s mom freaks out and sends Gemma home so that she can continue to call on Mrs. Talbot alone and gives her daughter a necklace. Gemma says that she doesn’t care if her mom comes home at all and runs off.
After going down random streets and stopping to cry, Gemma realizes that she is lost. She tries to find her way back to apologize to her mother. She sees the boy that was with Amar. She is frozen and has a vision of her mother being followed by an Amar. They see a shop with the same symbol on her necklace and go in. Amar is devoured by darkness and Gemma’s mom stabs herself to prevent being devoured as well. The boy asks Gemma what she saw, but she runs off to find her mother dead in the street.
Two months later, Gemma is traveling through London with her brother, Tom. He tells her about how to be proper and to keep the fact that their mom was murdered a secret. He then tells her that their father is back in London because of his substance abuse in Indian. The carriage stops in the slums and Gemma has another vision where a girl says that Mary has been looking for her. Gemma goes back to herself and a monster appears and tries to eat her.
The carriage stops again just outside Spence Academy for Girls. There is a Gypsy woman, Mother Elena (who is supposed to see everything) who seems to recognize Gemma and asks her about Carolina. Tom and Gemma say goodbye and Mrs. Nightwing (headmistress) shows Gemma to her room. She asks her to give up her grieving garb for the traditional uniform. Gemma asks about a closed door where she thinks she sees shadows moving. Mrs. Nightwing explains that the door stays closed because it leads to the east wing that was burned down and never restored.
Mrs. Nightwing introduces Gemma to Ann, her new roommate. They see Felicity and Pippa, who Ann explains are not nice people. They go to the chapel for prayers, and afterwards, Mrs. Nightwing gives a long speech. A girl trips Ann on their way out. Gemma thinks that she sees someone in a black cloak in the woods.
In their downtime, the girls of Spence go to the great room. Gemma starts reading her mother’s journal. Ann sits by her and knits as they talk about how Ann is a sap for fantasizing about a better life. Felicity and Pippa invite Ann over for chocolate and then accuse her of stealing Felicity’s ring. Gemma comes up with a story about how they found it and Ann wanted to return it in private so that she wouldn’t embarrass Felicity. Felicity and Pippa want Gemma to join their group.
Gemma is woken up by Felicity for initiation into her group, which involves stealing the communal wine from the chapel. Felicity, Pippa, Cecily, and Elizabeth close the doors and lock Gemma in. She runs into the boy she met in India, Kartik. He tells her to stop the visions or worse things will come. He tells her that they will be watching. Gemma steals the wine and leaves. Gemma wonders what causes the visions and tries to have one. She sees the little girl that she previously saw in the alley.
Gemma follows the girl into a cave. The girl tells her to get the object that is hidden behind the rock because Mary wants her to learn how to control her powers. Gemma tries to explain that she wants to be normal after she pulls out Mary’s diary. She goes back to her room and starts reading about Mary’s seemingly normal life. Gemma keeps the diary hidden in the closet. She dreams about her mother telling her to run. There is also a snake and a storm.
Gemma attends classes and realizes that she is very behind in French, and she is socially out casted. She leaves the wine on Felicity’s normal seat in the great room. Later that night, she gets another warning from Kartik. In art class, Miss Moore gets the class talking about how a piece makes them feel. Gemma avoids a vision in the middle of the class. On her way to get the diary, Gemma runs into a servant named Brigid, who reprimands her. Brigid tells her that her eyes are very green before sending her on her way.
Alone in the woods, Gemma reads about Mary and Sarah, who could eventually control their visions and see beautiful things. Gemma hasn’t done either of those, so she starts to wonder if Kartik might be right about trying not to have them. She decides to take a boat onto the lake and falls asleep. She dreams of chasing her mother and rips a piece of her mother’s dress. She wakes up to find that someone, Felicity, is by the boat house. Gemma is surprised to see that she is with a Gypsy boy, Ithal. Ithal refuses to leave until Kartik appears and speaks to him. Gemma hears Nightwing approaching and pushes Felicity in to the lake to create an alibi for their earlier screams. Felicity wants to be friends with Gemma (her other friends don’t know about Ithal). Gemma finds the torn piece of her mother’s dress from the dream.
Gemma returns to her room, complaining of a headache. When she gets there, Kartik is waiting. He says that he is Rakshana, guardians of the realms. Circe (who Amar mentioned to her mother) is part of the Order. She tells him how she saw Amar and her mother in the vision and shows him the patch of silk. Kartik says that it is an illusion the Order is using to get to her. Gemma asks about Mary Dowd, but he doesn’t seem to know anything about her. Gemma tells him that she will find her mother without his or the guardian’s help.
On an Art field trip to the caves in the woods behind the school, Miss Moore sees that Gemma has drawn the crescent eye, the symbol of the Order. Ann points out that Gemma’s necklace has the same symbol. Miss Moore explains that the Order was supposed to be a “powerful group of sorceresses” that could access other realms. Gemma and Felicity ask a lot of questions, but Miss Moore tells them to go read about it. After class, Felicity wants to start an order with Gemma, Pippa, Elizabeth, and Cecily. Gemma will only join if Ann is invited. As they walk, Ithal approaches Felicity and offers her a flower. Since the other girls are watching, She stomps it into the ground and comments about the “riff raff” in the woods needing to be cleaned out.
Felicity, Pippa, Ann, and Gemma meet at the cave for the first session of the Order. They drink whiskey (which Gemma accidently stole instead of wine), read from Mary Dowd’s diary, and make a blood oath to be loyal and true to each other. They tell the candle and walls their hearts desires and the wind blows as though the goddesses are answering them.
The Order spends the next morning dealing with their hangovers. Elizabeth and Cecily are jealous they were left out. Felicity passes notes with Gemma after Gemma makes an excuse for her hangover. Jealous, Pippa starts passing a note to Felicity, who reads it and passes it on to Gemma. After class, the teacher talks with Gemma about spirits. Gemma leaves and reads the mean note about her from Pippa. Later, Pippa is visited by a suitor named Mr. Bumble (old, fat, rich) and the other girls crowd around to try watching and listening to the interaction overseen by Mrs. Nightwing.
The four girls meet in the cave for their second meeting. Gemma goes easy on the whiskey this time. They read from the diary: Mary pays Mother Elena to tell her future. Mary is told that she is on a dark path that Mother Elena cannot see the outcome of. Gemma notices that Ann is reading ahead and while trying to hide the book from her, drops it. Ann helps gather the pages and Gemma sees marks on the other girl’s wrists. The read more: Sara is losing her power. Eugenia Spence tells her that happens sometimes. Sarah confronts Mary, telling her that she went to the Winterlands (which they weren’t supposed to go to without supervision). Sarah claims that the elders are only showing them what they can control. They fear the two girls and so Eugenia is taking away Sarah’s powers. Mary agrees to call up a dark spirit with a sacrifice so that the Order will let Sarah stay (seeing how much power they have). The girls try their own magic, but Gemma breaks the circle when she fears she is about to have a vision. They swim in the lake while Ann watches from the shore. They hear something and Pippa goes to get her clothes. Kartik sees her naked and she orders him away. He listens. Back in their room, Gemma makes Ann promise to stop cutting herself.
The girls are feisty at Dance class and Pippa and Gemma are not pleased to be paired together. Pippa tells the entire room that Felicity’s mother is a whore. While Dancing, Gemma wishes she was somewhere else. She starts to slip into a vision and is taking Pippa with her. She gets out of it, but Pippa goes into an epileptic seizure. Mrs. Nightwing emphasizes that this rumor cannot be spread or she will not be marriageable. Gemma visits Pippa and ends up telling Miss Moore that truth of how her mother died. Gemma hopes Pippa won’t remember the vision. On her way to join the other girls, she notices there is no class portrait for 1871, Mary and Sara’s year. Gemma and Felicity are left with Mrs. Nightwing in the dining room and Gemma asks about the portrait. Mrs. Nightwing tells her a picture was not taken for respect of the two girls that died in the east wing fire: Mary and Sarah.
Gemma, Felicity, and Ann try to get Mrs. Nightwing to talk about the girls, but it is Brigid who is willing to tell the tale. She was to watch over Sarah because she wasn’t feeling good and overheard the girls talking about murder. Sara catches her listening and threatens her with a voodoo doll. A few days later there was the fire that killed the girls and Mrs. Spence. The three girls (Ann reluctantly) decide to go to the Gypsy camp to see Mother Elena.
They arrive at the camp, see Ithal, and decide to come back in the morning. Gemma steps on and cracks a stick, alerting the Gypsies to their arrival. Felicity goes out of her hiding spot, with Gemma and Ann following, and demands to see Mother Elena. Kartik is there and claims that Gemma is his. The Gypsies need proof of this, so Gemma kisses him. He takes them to Mother Elena, but holds Gemma back, telling her not to do it. He asks about Pippa, and Gemma gets jealous.
Ann is told that she will have many suitors. When Gemma comes into the tent, Mother Elena seems to go back in time, talking to Mary. She warns her about the Order and how Sarah will be corrupted if a dark spirit is bound to her. The Winterlands contains spirits filled with rage that want to return to this realm. Mother Elena is wearing a crescent eye necklace. She starts yelling that Gemma/Mary destroyed them all, brought it upon them. Gemma runs out into the woods. She feels Kartik’s presence. Felicity and Ann show up. Later that night, Gemma dreams of Kartik, but she wakes up before anything happens and realizes it was only a dream.
Pippa is release by the doctor. Gemma, Felicity, and Pippa sit on the shore and talk about visitors for assembly day and make plans for their outing. They want to have Madame Romanoff contact Mary or Sarah for them. Felicity sends the boat that Pippa is sitting in out onto the lake. Pippa reaches for the oar, and falls in. Gemma goes to save her, remembering her vision, and sees that Pippa can easily stand in the water. Felicity walks off.
The class goes with Mademoiselle LeFarge to see Madame Romanoff. An inspector from Scotland Yard points out the falsities of the act. Mademoiselle LeFarge dismisses him. Felicity asks Romanoff to contact Gemma’s mother, Sarah Rees-Toome. Gemma quickly realizes that the whole thing is a scam. Her anger takes her and Madam Romanoff into a vision. Gemma leaves the repenting con artist to chase after her mother. Her mother tells her to use the magi or she will lose it. The Rakshana are afraid of Gemma and Circe is looking for her so that she can take her power. Her mother tells her to meet her in the garden. Gemma makes her way back to Romanoff and Mademoiselle LeFarge’s dead fiancé, Reginald, who died of the flu while in the army. He gives her a message to take back. Gemma returns to Romanoff and tells her to give Reginald’s message to Polly and not to tell anyone of what happened. She does this and they found that they were only gone for about a minute. Gemma is popular with her classmates, but she blows them off. Mademoiselle LeFarge starts talking with Inspector Kent. Kartik pulls Gemma aside and warns her again. She now refuses to heed his warnings and tells him so. She decides to call a meeting of the Order that night.
Gemma tells the girls of her Order her secret. They hold hands, picture a door of light, and then see it. Gemma is the only one that can open it into the garden. She leaves her friends to talk to her mother. Amar was her mother’s guardian. She killed herself to keep Circe’s assassin from claiming her. The realms is a world between the worlds and must be taken in small doses. Gemma needs to reunite the Order. Her mother was surprised that Gemma has the power to bring her friends and asks if Gemma trusts them. Mary and Sarah betrayed each other and now they no longer exist. Gemma is about to eat some berries, but her mother stops her. If she eats any food in the realms, she must stay in them. Gemma returns to her giddy friends and prevents Pippa from eating some berries.
The four girls go through their day back at Spence. Elizabeth and Cecily want to know the secret, but the girls refuse to share. In art class, they beg Miss Moore not to do a still life painting. She eventually agrees to let them do what they want. Gemma paints a giant apple and Miss Moore shows her that she needs to add shadow to balance the light. This leads to the discussion of Eve’s choice from the Bible.
When they return to the garden, Gemma introduces her friends to her mother. Felicity, Pippa, and Ann conjure their hearts desires. Gemma’s mother explains the runes of the oracle, which would allow them to have power in their own world. They fantasize and are then chastised. Gemma’s mother tells them that they must learn and be patient first. After a little more time in the realms, spent dancing around, the girls return to their own world. Gemma finds a note from Kartik asking/telling her to stop using the magic, which she rips up and throws out the window.
The girls get used to going to the garden every night. Gemma’s mother continues to explain the dangers of taking power into the world and how unprepared Gemma is to face Circe. Tom comes to visit and Ann shows interest in him. Gemma doesn’t have the heart to tell her he is looking for wealth. Gemma continues to argue with her mother about taking the power from the runes. Her mother explains that once Gemma does this, anyone that knows how can enter the realms. Gemma is acting like a brat and takes her anger out on Pippa. Her friends realize this and try to cheer her up.
Assembly Day ends up being a complete mess. Ann has no family, so Gemma agrees to take her with hers. As they wait, Pippa tells them that she is engaged to Mr. Bumble. Felicity goes outside to wait for her father. Gemma embarrasses herself by acting like a brat because she is upset with the state of her father. She goes to storm off and expects Ann to follow, but her crush on Tom leaves her there until Cecily points out that she is a scholarship student. Gemma goes outside for air and finds Felicity sitting with a note saying that her father isn’t coming. She stays there even as the rain starts to fall.
The Order sits in their cave drowning in their own miseries. Felicity tells a ghost story about their unfulfilled potential, which is how life will be always. Gemma decides that she is ready to bring back the magic.
The girls go to their garden through the door of light. They start heading for the runes, and they only person they run into on the way is the hunting goddess. Felicity, Ann, and Pippa touch Gemma as she touches the runes. They are transported to a mountain top where they all have their own experience and then return. The next thing Gemma knows, Ann is waking her from bed in their room. The girls go about their day, performing small immature magics. Pippa erases a stain and changes a statue. They decide to scare off Mr. Bumble from Pippa. Felicity takes away Cecily’s voice for insulting Ann. Gemma speaks perfect French. Ann sings. Gemma starts to have a nightmare, but wills it away and dreams about Kartik instead.
The next day, Mr. Bumble comes to visit Pippa. Felicity acts as though she may have appendicitis, and Gemma is placed as a temporary chaperone. Pippa tells Mr. Bumble about her epilepsy. He agrees to allow her to refuse his offer. The girls’ magic has faded and they decide to go back for more while in Felicity’s tent made out of scarves in the great hall. When they return to the room, they find that no one can see them, and the carvings on the pillars are alive. Gemma releases them and quickly regrets it. She holds a gargoyle over a fire to figure out how to trap them all again. Ann wants to do one more thing while time is stopped.
Cecily and Elizabeth are naked in the great hall. Miss Moore throws a blanket over them and Mrs. Nightwing takes them out of the room. Miss Moore joins the party in the scarf tent and sees the diary. The girls allow her to read the last entry: Mary and Sara lead Carolina (Mother Elena’s daughter) to the east wing to sacrifice her. Mary, misunderstanding the sacrifice, kills the girl. The beast is not pleased and still needs a sacrifice. Mary runs to get Eugenia. When they get back, Sarah is gone. They go to the Winterlands to find the beast that has her. Eugenia trades her life for Sara’s and gives Mary her crescent eye necklace. She tells Mary to get Sarah out while she closes the realms. Mare does and Sarah is mad that her chance for power is gone. She attacks Mary, who runs. Sarah knocks over a candle and starts a fire. Gemma goes to Kartik so that he can see that she isn’t bad like Mary and Sarah, but he just keeps backing away, realizing what she’s done. Brigid catches her in the hall upon her return and tells her that she remembers that Sarah used to call herself Circe.
Gemma is reprimanded because she no longer knows French. Later, she explains the importance of finding the 1871 class picture to her friends. While they are all searching, Gemma finds the picture behind the 1872 class portrait. Sarah’s face is blurry, but she learns that Mary Dowd was her mother.
Gemma goes to the realms to confront her mother. Mary tries to explain that she was trying to protect her and asks for forgiveness. Gemma refuses and tells her about her use of the runes. Mary is upset that Circe’s creature could already be there corrupting everything. Gemma leaves her mother and the huntress offers her a berry, which she refuses. Upon returning to her own world, Gemma’s friends want her to take them into the realms. She declines, but they make her promise that she will the next night.
Mr. Bumble talked to Pippa’s parents and denied Pippa’s claim of epilepsy. The two are to be wed by the end of the week. Mrs. Nightwing asks about the diary she found in Felicity’s room. Felicity and Ann blame it all on Miss Moore. Gemma tries to tell the truth, which won’t be heard. Mrs. Nightwing explains that Miss Moore will be release. Brigid starts screaming, and when they reach her, Sarah’s voodoo doll is in her hand.
Pippa begs Gemma’s forgiveness for getting Miss Moore fired. She wants one last night in the realms before she leaves for her married life. Gemma refuses to talk to Pippa. Gemma thinks she sees the stained glass image of an angel moving in the chapel. Gemma waits for Miss Moore so that she can apologize and say goodbye. Hester Moore tells Gemma to call on her if she ever needs something.
The girls go to the cave and Gemma refuses to take them to the realms. Felicity decides that they should do a sacrifice and calls a deer. Gemma decides that the huntress (who is not as innocent as they first thought) has been whispering dangerous ideas to Felicity. Felicity, Ann, and Pippa strip down, chase the deer, and kill it. They are still unable to form the door. Kartik appears and Felicity wounds him. She threatens to kill him, which gets Gemma to agree to take them into the realms. They accept her offer.
The y follow the huntress to the runes, but Felicity finally gets suspicious when the huntress says she has a mistress. The girls are attacked and separated. Pippa ends up on a boat where the shore is guarded by a wraith. She jumps out of the boat so that the others won’t leave her behind. Gemma realizes this was the vision she had while dancing with Pippa. She forces Felicity and Ann back through the door where they find Pippa’s body is having a seizure.
Kartik carries Pippa back to Spence. Gemma wakes up Mrs. Nightwing to inform her about Pippa’s condition. Gemma gives Felicity the crescent eye before she returns to the realms to attempt saving Pippa.
In the realms, Mary appears telling Gemma that they must go to the runes. Gemma is skeptical, but decides to trust her mother. However, she finds that it is really the monster disguised as her mother. She is able to overpower being connected to it by her will. She smashes the runes. She forgives her mother. Gemma rescues Pippa from the water, but Pippa decides to eat the berries and stay with her knight rather than marrying Mr. Bumble. She goes over the river to the land on the other side. Carolina is on the other side of the lake as well, and she looks like she is waiting for someone. Gemma returns to that Pippa’s body has died. The attend Pippa’s funeral. Kartik gives his condolences. Gemma says there’s no going back. Felicity’s worried she’s damaged. Gemma knows that they all are.
The school mourns and gossips about Pippa. Gemma leaves her father’s cricket bat as a gift for Kartik, who seems to love it. Gemma realizes the power of forgiveness. She decides to take a run with a deer.
Gemma Doyle Trilogy:
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Sweet Far Thing