Joint Review: “The Belles”

23197837Book: “The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Bookish First; an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: 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.

Kate’s Review:

Many thanks to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this novel!

My first experience with Dhonielle Clayton was the sudsy and dramatic “Tiny Pretty Things” duology that she wrote with Sona Charaipotra. While I loved the first book in that series, I was left cold by the second. But when I heard that Clayton was writing a fantasy series on her own, I knew that I would absolutely need to get my hands on it. I know that I say that fantasy isn’t really my wheelhouse, I do have exceptions, and this kind of fantasy (other worldly dystopia/utopia) absolutely falls into that category. I sat down and read “The Belles” in one day, absolutely taken in by this amazing fantasy world that Clayton created.

And oh my gosh, so many FASHION DESCRIPTIONS. I have no style, but I love fashion.

giphy
Sashay shanté, bitches. (source)

Orléans  is unlike any other fantasy world that I have seen in a very long time. It has certain similarities with our world, feeling like a combination of French Revolution era societal castes and factions, and yet with magic and grand technologies dispersed throughout it. The Belles, women who have descended from the Goddess of Beauty, have magic flowing through them that allows them to create beauty with various tools and powers that they have. The mortals of Orléans have been cursed with a distinct lack of beauty and grace (the mythology is indeed explained), and the Belles are the only ones who can help them. I greatly enjoyed Camellia’s moral journey as a Belle. She starts wanting to be the very best, to be picked as the Favorite of the Royal Court and to live with them, just as her mother had. But as she starts to live that life, she starts to change, as realities that she has never seen start to become all too real. The way that she changed and met those changes was very fascinating, and hers was a complex and interesting perspective to follow.

The other characters in this book are all very well done as well. Though we only see the events through Camellia’s eyes, I feel like I got a good hold on the supporting ones too and what their motivations were. I greatly enjoyed one of the other Belles named Edel, whose inherent need to rebel and question her life as a Belle was a small, but telling, theme about how different people function within this opulent world. There are different ways that the characters in this book fit into the complicated society, and I was impressed and genuinely horrified by how willing Clayton was to go into disturbing and dark situations to show the dangerous side of a beauty obsessed and power imbalanced culture. Keep an eye out for Princess Sofia. If you want a really screwy and messed up villain in your YA fantasy, she is exactly what you’re looking for.

I really enjoyed “The Belles” and am waiting for the second book on pins and needles.

Serena’s Review:

I had never read any books by Dhonielle Clayton before this, but the intriguing book description alone was enough to convince me this was one to check out. The fact that Kate was also interested was also a plus, since she’s not a huge reader of fantasy, so when there’s one that appeals to her as well, than I’m usually pretty curious!

The thing that stands out about it the most to me was the world-building and descriptions of the beauty that make up the lives of those able to afford such luxuries. The fact that this beauty is also tied to the world’s creation story and is a tangible part of their lives further cemented it as an intriguing concept. What could have read as a fairly superficial fantasy world was instead fully realized and complex, using beauty as not only the primary aspect of the magical system itself but a commentary on what is important to the people in this world. But the simplistic moralizing that one would expect , obsession with physical beauty is superficial and bad, is complicated by the very real implication of the beings peopling this world. Not only do they become physically less beautiful, with grey skin and red eyes, but it is mentioned that insanity also comes for those who fall too far into this “natural” state. I loved the added layers given to this, as, like I said, this could have ended up with a very simple and trite message.

Instead, much of the arc was devoted to Camellia’s growth as a character. Yes, obsession with physical beauty is discussed. But for Camellia, much of her story is that of a young woman who is just beginning to live the life that she’s dreamed of and realizing that it might be very different than she had expected. She’s a typical teenage girl in many ways, struggling with jealousy, self-care, and establishing her own boundaries. Throughout the story, we see her fight with her instincts to please those around her versus do what she knows to be right. Further, this growth comes slowly and steadily, reading as a more natural progression and thus highly relatable to teenage girls. The pressure is real, as are the consequences, and remaining true to your own judgements is never a straight forward path.

I also loved how dark this book was, and I was surprised by the quality of the villain who was presented. The same detailed and extravagant writing that goes into illustrating all of the beauty that makes up this world was put to just as good of use when drawing up the truly terrifying future that now looms by the end of this book.

All in all, I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! It was easy to read the concept and dismiss it as a kind of silly fluff-fantasy that was going to preach an all too familiar message about the “beauty within.” But nope! This is definitely one worth checking out!

Kate’s Rating 8: A sumptuous and unique tale about a gilded society and the darkness behind, and cost of, outer beauty. The characters were all well done and the world Clayton built was wonderfully crafted.

Serena’s Rating 8: A surprising read that avoids the easy and expected messages while still focusing on what’s important. Strong characters, beautiful descriptions, and villain to give you the creeps! Everything you want from YA fantasy fiction!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Belles” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Fashion Dystopia” and “YA Heroines of Colour.”

Find “The Belles” at your library using WorldCat!

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