I wanted to love this book so much. First off, the cover is absolutely stunning. It provides just a hint of the lush, magical world of The Belles. And yet… Well, when authors I love rave about this book as well, it makes me all the more excited. This is the first book by Clayton that I’ve read, her fantasy debut. While I enjoyed it for the most part, there were also some glaring issues which prevented me from clutching the book to my heart in merriment.
Thank you to NetGalley and Disney Book Group for giving me a free, digital copy in exchange for an honest review!
Title: The Belles (The Belles #1)
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Release date: February 6, 2018
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Length: 448 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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.”
TW: Sexual assault
What a luscious, gorgeous, delectable world Clayton has created. We dive right into the action from the very first page. The world of Orléans and that of the Belles is filled with beauty and wonder. I cannot get over the concept of this novel. How incredibly unique to have a handful of women control beauty. And yet how dreadful for them to control it as well–pushed and pulled in a variety of directions all for the rich and glamorous who can afford it.
There were times I didn’t quite understand how the magic–or arcana–of the Belles worked, but as the story progressed and we followed Camellia into her world, I found myself comparing the Belles’ work to that of a modern-day plastic surgeon. People can change their looks on a whim–at the right price, of course–pale moon skin color or tawny brown the next, flowing black hair or brilliant red the next. The people of Orléans are born as Gris, gray-skinned, red-eyed, but the Belles can make them beautiful. The unfortunate part is that the beauty never lasts, and the Belles are always in business.
However, as I continued reading, I came across a handful of problems and personal dislikes. While I liked the world-building to an extent, I eventually felt like I was reading a laundry list, whether it was colors, fabrics, or food (which all sounded delicious actually). I loved that it gave off an elegant utterly decadent 1700s French style, à la Marie Antionette. But that also meant there was a dark side, and we saw just how much some people were willing to pay for beauty.
The characters were conniving and yet…confusing. I loved how close Camellia and her sisters were, and I just had to keep reminding myself they’re only sixteen. Yet sometimes I thought their antics were very two-faced, especially that of Camellia and her best friend, Amber. One of the most uncomfortable part was in the last few chapters and what happened with Claudine, one of Princess Sophia’s ladies-in-honor (ladies-in-waiting?). Claudine is the only queer woman in the book and her fate made me a bit uncomfortable. I thought it was horrible to use her in such a way to show how bad one particular character was. (Thank you, Destiny, for pointing that out to me.) But besides that, the princess also announces Claudine’s marriage to a gentleman who is quite possibly a known serial rapist. Not to mention this same person also attempted to sexually assault the main character! No good! I also found some of the characters to be very flat, especially Rémy and even the queen. (Though I quite liked Rémy and his role at the end of the novel in regards to helping Camellia.)
The writing style also fell short for me. There was a lot of room for stronger sentences instead of the typical “noun verb direct object” style. I don’t know if that’s Clayton’s usual style of writing as this is the first book I’ve read by her, or if it’s because this is her first fantasy book. Regardless, I’d like to see more intricate writing.
I thought about giving this 2.5 stars, but the ending and the light shed of a lot of the Belles’ history and how they’re raised, along with what Camellia and Amber did together (girl power!) helped bulk this up to a full 3 stars. I also have some hope for the next book in the series, and that queer woman (if there are any in the next book) receive better treatment.