Book Review: The Belles

The Belles
Clayton, Dhonielle
3 stars = Pretty Good

Camellia is a Belle - a person in the fantastical world of Orleans who has magical powers that allow her to change the appearance of others. These powers, and the way she uses them, puts her in high demand, and rich folks clamor to use the Belles' services. There is one Belle, the favorite, who serves royalty. Camellia's dearest ambition is to be the favorite, like her mother. After a few mishaps, she achieves this goal only to discover that the position is not all it's cracked up to be. Royalty is demanding, and Camellia soon finds herself being asked to do morally reprehensible things - things she can refuse only at her own peril. She must decide what means more: fame and beauty, or doing what is right.

To call the worldbuilding in this book "lush" or "complex" would be a disservice. The author invents a unique new world and mythology that, for me, were the strongest point of the book. If you've seen a Baz Luhrman movie, this world is set in that kind of magnificent, wondrous, almost over-the-top opulence that delight's one's imagination. The luxuriant worldbuilding does lead to something of a slow start, but if you are like me, you'll be so immersed in the marvelous new world that you won't care the the story takes a minute to get going. Once the story does get going, several quandaries and mysteries and introduced, and I found myself racing towards the conclusion. Camellia is a likable character that I think a ton of young women will relate to as she's very much a sixteen year old trying to make her place in a big scary world. She's a bit naive, but has deep seated convictions and is constantly rebelling against rules and regulations to show case her creativity and do her absolute best.

I went into this book with extremely high expectations based on a number of positive reviews from Goodreads, professional journals and the like, and I think those expectations may have hampered my enjoyment of the read, at least somewhat. Not to say this isn't an enjoyable read - it absolutely is. I had to physically stop myself from devouring it all in one go. It just felt more like a guilty pleasure read instead of a read of substance. The book should have been really creepy. When the Belles change a person, they change everything. We're talking like body shape/size, shaving off bones, eyeballs out of sockets, and other sorts really gross stuff that should have been horrific. For whatever reason, the creepiness factor never connected with me, but if it had, I think I would've loved this one. There's a female friendship in here that also didn't really land - we're told more than shown that the girls are close. It never felt believable. There are a few plot points that are introduced that are seemingly abandoned or never fully realized though I imagine they'll factor into future installments. I saw where the romance was going immediately, and also figured out the mystery of the sick princess early on in the story. On the whole, I found the book to be rather predictable.

I did enjoy this one, and I'll definitely be coming back for the sequel. I hope it provides a bit more substance, but either way, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I'd recommend this to readers who liked The Selection, Caraval or The Red Queen (although let me be clear: this book is better written and conceived than any of those), and I'll be adding it to several reading lists as well as booktalking it. 3 stars - I liked it!

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