The Belles is one of those books that I walked away from thinking, “That was pretty great”, and then a few hours later, “Wow, that was awesome”, and then a day later, “OMG that was amazing”. There are so many wonderful things I loved about this book, and why I think you should read it.
Camellia is a Belle, she possess arcana magic that allows her to transform the appearances, and manners, of the citizens of Orléans. Every year the Belles are presented to the world and given their assignments in the renowned teahouses, and one special Belle will be the favorite, living at the court and attending to the royal family alone. Camellia’s dream has always been to be the favorite, like her mother. But Camellia will soon find out that the contest to become the favorite is just the least of her problems and the challenges to come. Her time at court will show her the dangers, and limitations of her power and exactly what happens when power and beauty combine.
Reading The Belles was like walking through a brightly colored magical land. If I had to describe it, I would imagine something similar to the fashions from Pan Em, The Hunger Games. There are extensive descriptions of the clothes, the colors, and the whole arcana magical process. Characters in the book are as vivid as the clothing.
The obvious favorite, Camellia, is compassionate, intelligent, and brave. However, she’s far from a perfect fragile flower, instead being incredibly witty and not without flaws. Her flaws are universal and representative of growing up. She struggles with setting limits and the desire to please in the face of corruption. But this makes her feel more human and the journey she goes on throughout the book more meaningful.
However, the side characters may be my favorites. Her personal guard Remy and her attendant, Bree to name a few. Even though they are smaller roles, Clayton does not allow them to be less colorful or important. They are compassionate, complex, and clever. And I am eager to see where they go in the sequel.
What I loved most was the idea behind the novel: the concept of beauty. For the citizens of Orléans beauty is coveted and expensive. It is reserved only for those who can pay and seen as the epitome of status. In this society, what is beauty? When we can change our appearance quickly what remains?
Additionally, the trends of beauty are constantly changing and there are laws that enforce exactly what can and cannot be done. The intersection of corruption, power, and a lust for beauty is extremely interesting. To me, this dystopia is an amped up mirrored one of ours – except add in some more twists – and because of that, it is fascinating. What will people do in the pursuit of beauty? And how do we become beautiful without losing ourselves?
The mystery about the origins of the Belles and what goes on beneath the surface is another intriguing part of the puzzle. It unfolds slowly, adding more and more different shades to the magic of the story. And I know there must be more. In this way, the entire world building is superb, full of history, conspiracy, and brightness.
As the plot develops, the story gets better and better, adding new elements and intrigue. The ending is especially juicy and really leaves you hanging for the next one. While there are explorations of large themes, the all-consuming quest for eternal beauty, on the micro level there is an equally important pursuit: our power to deny the desire to be accepted and accept the responsibility of doing what is right.
On both these levels, The Belles excels and delivers an exciting and obsessive read that will leave you on the edges of your seat for the next installment.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
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