Tuesday, February 6, 2018

[Review] The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Series: The Belles #1
Rating: 4.5 stars

Release Date: February 6th 2018
Format: ARC 

Goodreads Synopsis:
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.


I was already excited to read this book, and then I found out from my Professor for my YA Creative Writing course that it is actually going to be on the required reading list, and the author will most likely visit in May, I HAD TO GET ON THIS BOOK ASAP.

Of course this book is coming out today and that is also why I'm reviewing here today, but still, I'm glad I got on this sooner and not later.

The Belles was a really unique concept and I just can't get over that. We've got a lot of magical worlds, princesses fighting to be the last one standing, Romeo and Juliet-esque loves, that sort of thing, but this really took the cake on a book that took a very widespread and familiar issue in society, did a total 180 degree flip and made a completely unfamiliar yet totally plausible world with it. Dhonielle Clayton does an excellent job of crafting the world of Orleans and executing the story so that not only are we astounded by the glitz and glamour of this world, we can draw back to the real world and find the connections she makes between Orleans and societal problems.

We start out with Camellia Beauregard and her sisters as Belles, who have this power, arcana, that can transform the colorless Gris of the world into lively, colorful versions of themselves - essentially, to make them beautiful. The Belles are the only one with this plastic surgery power of sorts, and EVERYONE wants it. Everyone wants to be beautiful, and there are many who would sacrifice anything just to be transformed by a Belle. As such, they are revered in Orleans, but only one can be the favorite of the Queen and the royal family.

Initially, I was so wonderstruck by the uniqueness of this story, as it opens with Camellia and her sisters competing to be the favorite by each transforming a girl according to the specifications of their teacher, Madame du Barry. But then you have scenes like this, where you're very much aware of the Gris's obsession with beauty, and then you realize, this is basically the world we live in.

"Are you sure?" Daniela cups her hand around my ear. "Mother says I'm a complete disaster," she whispers.

The little girl only needs a few small refreshments - a new coat of skin paste, an eye brightening, reinforcement of her hair texture.

"We could give you a tail, and maybe some whiskers - then you two can match." I point to the teacup lion licking her leg.
She picks him up and nuzzles her face in his fur. "Really?"
"Nonsense," Lady Jocquard says. "Her looks have been a mess lately. Can't you see her eyes and nose? They've always been a problem. Her natural template is flawed."
Daniela's eyes are a little sunken, like two finch's eggs in a nest, and her nose hooks left. I want to tell her that Daniela's little hooked nose gives her character - natural individuality, uncreated by Belles. I want to remind her that Daniela's bones will always drift back to their original shape, and that some are more stubborn than others. I want to tell her Daniela's distinctive features make her appear sweet and curious.

"I'd like for you to give her a new, darker hair shade, and work on her face," Lady Jocquard says. "We might have to discuss giving her a completely new one at some point."
"She's a very pretty girl -"
She scoffs, then lifts a bag from her pocket and jingles it.
A long silence drifts between us. I stare into her eyes.
"I like it when my daughter looks a certain way. She must learn how to maintain herself well. Even at this age." Lady Jocquard snaps her fingers to her attendant. "Here's a beauty board I created."
Her attendant hands it to me. Color smudges streak around a old cameo of Daniela. Hair-texture swatches line the perimeter, boasting an array of types - coiled, straight, coarse, wavy, fine, curly, frizzy, and smooth. The portraits of other courtier children circle hers.
I glance from the board to Daniela, and then to her mother. I wish Lady Jocquard could see her the same way I do.

"I really love how Lady Elise Saint-Germain - from House Garlande - styles her twins. You know, they made the newsies' new child beauty-scopes. Twice. She updates them in the perfect way."

"Have you thought about leaving-"

She puts a hand up. "I didn't come here to argue about what's best for my daughter. I came here to spend money. I can just as easily go to the Silk Teahouse, and make sure all my courtier friends know exactly what type of experience they'll get here with you."

This scene embodies what we, and what the Gris make of beauty. It starts of so young, when we indoctrinate our children to think that their is a standard of beauty we need to attain - we need to be skinny, we need to have pale skin, we need to have curves, etc. There are many well-done and powerful scenes in The Belles just like this. I would love to discuss them all, but there are also many other aspects of The Belles I enjoyed.

Camellia's characterization and her relationship with her sisters is something I need to point out. I love that even though it seems like the Belles tower over people in Orleans with their powers, they are just as flawed, as they all want to be the favorite, the best. Camellia, especially, wants to stand out and rebel against this system more and more as time goes on, and it's nice to see that she always takes into account how her actions affect those around her.

The villain in The Belles is also someone I have to point out, because it's not who you expect. There are hints leading up to the villain, and usually with villains, you expect them to have all this power and strengthen surrounding them. The villain of The Belles is just an ordinary girl, a person with perhaps the strongest obsession with beauty that it is extremely damaging to herself and to others. She's a villain that I loved to hate, because she was so terrible to Camellia.

The only critique I have, and this is minor, is the buildup over some reveals and the connections to some minor characters. There are some romantic interests and characters that I wish I could have connected to more, because when the reveals happened, I didn't feel the particular shock or surprise I normally do.

All in all, The Belles is a page-turner! It's compelling, it's addictive, and the fact that it's a very good discourse on societal pressures makes it all the more an invigorating read! I never really write long reviews at 3 am but here we are! I highly recommend it. And, with all books I adore, I can't wait for the sequel. 

1 comment:

  1. I've heard mixed reviews about this book but I am glad that you loved it! Great review, thank you for sharing :D

    Brittany @ Brittany's Book Rambles