Title: THE BELLES
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Series: The Belles, #1
Publication Information: DisneyHyperion, 2018
Genre: Young Adult — Fantasy
Warnings: Abuse, sexual assault
Rating: 4 Stars
Recommended For: People looking for an original fantasy, anyone who wanted more time in the Capitol in the Hunger Games trilogy.
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.
(Summary from Goodreads)
THE BELLES is basically like if that Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst and the Capitol from The Hunger Games had a baby, except that baby had magical powers and was sinister and instead of food, people just wanted to be pretty. It was the best combination of beautiful and terrifying, and I loved it.
My favorite aspect of the book was the world building. Clayton’s descriptive writing made Orléans come to life for me, and I loved how effectively the question of how far is too far re: our society’s obsession with beauty was explored through this lens. The juxtaposition between the pretty setting, characters, and writing and the ugliness that appeared when the surface layers got peeled back was deployed effortlessly. On the other hand, because of the amount of exposition, the book did drag a little bit for me at points.
Another issue I had was that the romance didn’t really do it for me. It felt a little forced to me, and I think Camellia’s story would’ve been stronger without it. I much preferred the focus on her relationships with her sisters, and I hope there’s more of that in the next book.