Release Date: February 6, 2018
Source: Advanced copy provided unsolicited by the publisher.
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.
The Belles is fun and fascinating. The writing is very descriptive and flowery. All of the details are dizzying with lusciousness, almost like a too sweet dessert. I think that's exactly the point. The writing mirrors this world. It's a fantastical world with its own decadent creation mythology. Everything is so colorful and beautiful to cover up the ugliness underneath.
The reader and Camellia soon learn that everything is not as alluring as it seems on the surface. Once Camellia enters the world of royalty, she unmasks some sinister secrets. I loved the juxtaposition between the beauty and nastiness in this world. It truly drew me in, and I did not want to stop reading. So many questions kept popping up in the beginning, I just had to know what all was lying beneath this façade. Some parts of this story are truly disturbing and heart pounding. It was a captivating adventure. There are definitely parallels to our own world and our definitions of beauty, making it all the more ominous. In this world people can change anything about themselves, from appearance to temperament, so where is the line drawn? Furthermore, it is not an easy process for a Belle to modify you. It causes suffering for both parties, but that is often ignored and endured. Threads of prejudice, warped social ideals, and pain run through this book.
On a more light-hearted side, there is a budding romance in this story. It's not the main focus, but does play a small part. Although, towards the end, I started to ship Camellia with another man. I'm eagerly awaiting the next book to see where that plot goes especially because it was not thoroughly expanded upon in this one. Also, right at the end, a previously minor character shows up, which took me by surprise. I was a little peeved to see the book end there, haha. I was like.. "there has got to be another chapter!"
The things I didn't love about the book were Camellia and the pacing, mostly at the beginning. I felt like she was a little blah at first. I wanted more oomph from her at the get go. However, this new world she's thrown into does bring out the fire in her as she uncovers its darkness. I liked her, but didn't deeply connect to her. Also, the writing did slow down the pace. This is a long book and maybe unnecessarily so. There is a lot of description, but I was left with questions about this world and how everything works. The writing is beautiful, but lacked some substance in the world building.
I very much enjoyed this book. It kept me entertained, guessing, and hoping. It's also a disturbing look into a world that reflects our own in many ways. The intertwining of beauty, love, pain, and wickedness gripped me. I will definitely pick up the sequel.
Trigger warning for this book: attempted sexual assault