Series: The Belles #1
on February 20th 2018
Genres: young adult, fantasy
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Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.
I was lucky enough to get an ARC of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, graciously sent to my by the publisher, and I am thankful because it was fabulous. My favorite thing about this book is how it takes familiar tropes and plot elements and bends them and tells them in a completely new and original way. I have never read world-building like this before, and I LURRRRVVVVEEEEDDDD it. It’s so girly and pretty, and the the kingdom of Orleans was so imaginative.
Camellia is a Belle. At the beginning of the book they tell you the myth that gives you the background of how the Gris came to be. Now I’ve heard the criticisms about albinism, and frankly, I do not think the Gris are based on albinism. Their skin at one point is described in a way that can be seen that way, but then throughout the book it is CLEAR that their skin tone is gray. It is compared to elephant skin at one point. Yes, they have red eyes, but again, I just don’t think it was meant that way. So, anyway, The Belles use their arcana, which is in their blood, to paint the Gris people, improve their looks and dispositions, and turn them into the people that they’ve always wanted to be. If the people have the money, that is. Generally only the rich can afford the best Beauty Work, and servants have to depend on Beauty Tokens (handouts from royalty and the rich) to improve their looks.
This book is set in a kingdom called Orleans, which I think is based on New Orleans but it is VERY loosely based to the point that nothing at all reminded me of Nola, except the name and the fact that it was on the water. I’d have loved this book to come with a map. I don’t know if the finished copy will have one, but it should. I would have pictured it in my mind a lot better if there was a map of the city proper (and all the districts), and then another map with all the different outlying communities and which teahouses went where.
Early on in the book there’s a competition between the six different Belles, and this competition determines which Belle will be the Favorite, and stay and work in the palace, and which Belles will be sent to the different teahouses in the different island communities. We find out later that the Belles our worked to death, and one of them plans her escape. And things start to fall apart at the palace too. Princess Sophia is a tyrant, and her mother, the Queen (who is ill), doesn’t want her to be the new Queen, but the real heir, Princess Charlotte, has sleeping sickness and is in a coma. The Queen wants the Favorite to find a way to heal her.
I think this book has a really fabulous plot and characters, and I was hooked. It was just SO MUCH FUN to read. I honestly have not had that much fun reading in a long time, but The Belles was not perfect. There were things I didn’t care for.
- The romance. I just didn’t see a reason for it, and it felt a little tacked on. Until the very end of the novel, it didn’t seem like Auguste had a greater role in the plot. The romance actually made me like Camellia less, because the thing is, Auguste is one of Princess Sophia’s suitors. So not only does it feel quite a bit like cheating, but it made me dislike both of them for the way they were sneaking around. And Camellia is not supposed to have ANY contact with males because it could harm her arcana, and she keeps saying being a Belle is SO important to her, yet she’s willing to possibly throw it all away for a man she hardly knows.
- What is with the fricking hyphens? Look, some of the hyphens were necessary, but it sort of felt like every other word was hyphenated. And so many of them didn’t make sense. I’m sure it was a stylistic choice, but I think it was a stupid one.
- Some of Camellia’s decisions were confusing to me, and just didn’t make sense. There is something that happens toward the end that is absolutely awful. Camellia does what Princess Sophia asks, because she doesn’t want to end up in the dungeon, and yet after she does it she ends up in the dungeon ANYWAY. So why did she not take the chance and refuse? There were a few other things like that that happened where I was questioning the decisions of the characters.
- And then there was Princess Sophia. She was supposed to be this evil tyrant, and was the main antagonist of the book, but I just mostly found her laughable? I pictured her with this squeaky voice and a Paris Hilton vibe, and it just didn’t work for me. That could entirely be my fault, but it is what it is.
That said, I still had a LOT of fun with The Belles, and I am definitely in for the long haul. I have yet to read Tiny Pretty Things, but I’ve heard great things about that book, so I’m definitely going to be reading it at some point soon. Oh, and this book is like a dessert lover’s dream come true, but I do not recommend reading it without a dessert sitting beside you, because you’re going to need one.