Also by this author: Tiny Pretty Things, Shiny Broken Pieces (Tiny Pretty Things, #2), The Everlasting Rose (The Belles, #2)
on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 448 •Format: ARC •Source: YALLWest
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.
Have you ever gone into a book with little to no expectations and then end up being BLOWN AWAY by how much you adore it? That is what exactly happened to me when I picked up The Belles on one of my last days of my Hawaiian vacation. Feeling burnt out from reading about a book a day, my boyfriend suggested I switch up genres to keep from falling into a reading slump. Having read 3 contemporaries already that week, I decided to pick up my ARC of The Belles that had been waiting for me since last summer’s YALLWest, since it’s length was a bit intimidating. I immediately fell in love with the glamorous, sugar-spun world of The Belles and it’s lush descriptions rival every book I’ve ever written that I’ve praised for it’s prose and world building.
I generally dislike comparing books to other popular reads because I believe a story should stand on its own, but The Belles reminded me of my favorite elements of a lot of other series. Based in a fantasy world where beauty is the main virtue and Belles are among the most coveted member of society for their transformative powers, The Belles was like a mix of Grisha tailoring from Leigh Bardugo’s series and Cinna’s glam squad from The Hunger Games. I loved reading the descriptions of different looks, seeing how the magic of the Belles worked to create styles and trends and the artistry that goes into their work, from the colored cremes that create skin tones to the tools that can reshape skin and bones. As a huge makeup lover myself I was awed by the diversity and creativity of looks and style in the story and was enthralled by the descriptions.
Of course, there’s really no way to talk about a story centered around the concept of beauty without discussing the quality of writing of the author to depict the descriptions, and that is where Clayton REALLY shines. Not only does she create vivid descriptions of the Belle’s work on clients to change their appearance, she fleshes out the world the Belles live in using exquisite detail. Everything is bursting with color and light and flavor, from the descriptions of buildings and furniture and food to the gadgets and gizmos in the Belle apartments and the palace. I felt like I was immersed in a world perpetually bathed in sunset and cotton candy clouds with rainbow macaroons and crystal candelabras every time I turned a page- sort of a glitzy Alice in Wonderland meets the Nutcracker feel with less confusion and more glamour. I also loved the idea that the kingdom was a series of Isles with a Teahouse that each contained a Belle, with names such as Silk, Spice, Glass, and Fire.
Of course, with a society obsessed with beauty, there’s deeper, darker, festering problems and questions that arise. As the book progresses and protagonist Camellia becomes more entrenched in the royal household, abuses and horrors are revealed. Questions regarding the role of the Belles in society and the origin of their powers arise, and their honorable role in society starts to diminish into little more than slavery when confronted with a populace who’s obsession and thirst to be beautiful can never be quenched. Clayton writes an antagonist from this place that’s one of the more horrifying YA villains I’ve seen, who’s built from the greed and envy and desire that’s ever present not just in this fantasy world but in our real world, where appearances and aesthetic are more easily comparable and warped than ever.
Overall: The Belles is a story with much depth and complexity present behind a lush candy coated, jewel toned setting, proving that important and critical content can exist alongside lush settings and fun descriptions. I absolutely devoured this book and fell deeper into this fantasy world than I ever would have expected. I am so, so glad this is a series because I can’t wait to continue the story of the Belles and dive deeper into the complex plot webs that Clayton set up in this novel, as well explore the rest of the kingdom of Orléans. This story is opulent and indulgent without sacrificing any integrity or intelligence of plot. Dhonielle Clayton has achieved auto-buy author status with this one.