The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton • Published on February 6, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion • 440 pages • Young Adult, Fantasy • Book #1 in The Belles series • Own Copy
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.
Third times the charm. I’ve had The Belles on my shelf since February and for some strange reason every time I picked it up something prevented me from reading it. Unfortunately, I’ve had to set it aside multiple times because of reading slumps or timing. That was until a few days ago. Despite my current reading slump, I was ecstatic when my library notified me that they purchased an audiobook title I recommended. This time, I was determined to not let anything else get in the way of giving this book a chance.
Such a unique story set in a gorgeous twisted world. I did not expect to be so intrigued by the beautiful and somewhat disturbing world this story takes place in. Even though I didn’t quite understand how the magic system worked, Orléans is unique and vastly different from other fantastical worlds. Orléans is matriarchal, lush, and twisted. The people are born with gray skin and can only be made beautiful by a Belle. The story features a lot of scheming, politics, and mystery. It’s definitely not a fictional world that I would not want to live in.
One of my favorite aspects of this book was the writing. Clayton’s prose is stunning and descriptive. The world she created was so imaginative that sometimes I couldn’t visually grasp everything. I admired the way Clayton tackles beauty as a commodity and the way it provides a critique of the beauty industry’s standards. At times, I felt a bit overwhelmed by everyone’s obsession with beauty, but I think this is exactly what Clayton intended.
There are plenty of characters to love and hate. Clayton does a wonderful job of creating intriguing racially diverse characters. Camellia took a bit of time to warm up to but I enjoyed her narration and her relationship with her sisters. There is a bit of competitiveness because the sisters are competing to be the favorite; however, there’s a lot of camaraderie and sisterhood. I loved the multi-generational connections that were weaved throughout the story and the subtle romance. I disliked most of the characters at the royal palace and didn’t trust any of them. Even though there was one particular character that I absolutely hated, I admire Clayton for giving readers a truly evil villain.
I wish the plot twists weren’t so predictable. The first half of this book was pretty slow because there’s so much setup but once it picked up, I was hooked. My anticipation was high and I loved the mysteriousness surrounding the Belles and the palace’s secrets. I expected something far more nefarious than what was delivered because of how twisted this story was. To my dismay, that didn’t happen.
The Belles was a pleasant surprise. The world-building is rich and visually stunning, the characters are intriguing, and I admired the way this book tackles the dangers of beauty commodification. Clayton masterfully addresses this issue without lecturing readers. I will definitely pick up the sequel.
If you’re in the mood for a story with lush writing and twisted take on beauty and royalty, then you might enjoy this.
Trigger warning: Sexual assault
Have you read The Belles? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments.