Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, 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 Orleans 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 Orleans 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 by Dhonielle Clayton Review
How Important is True Beauty?
“Beauty is power… abilities… dark secrets… such magic is forbidden.”
These are the words from the synopsis that got me hooked on The Belles in the first place. Not to mention the beautiful cover art!
The Belles is a high fantasy fiction novel based in a world that Clayton created. It depicts her take on the concept of beauty and its importance in the society of Orleans, where the high ranked citizens pay to be made beautiful by The Belles. This is a painful procedure and the customers are given a tea to slightly alleviate the pain.
I saw a lot of posts online about this book and the fantasy genre is something I’m naturally drawn to. I can tell you with great pleasure that this story is out of this world! It’s extremely creative, and the general storyline is completely new. There’s nothing like this universe and its magic.
Clayton is the co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series, which have now been moved higher up on my to-be-read list.
The beautiful predominantly pink cover, designed by Marci Senders, is a photo of Camellia (the main character) with flowers in her hair. I think this gives a good peek into the story, and it calls out for readers to buy it. Which I did!
When I opened the book to start reading the actual story, I was further impressed by the Orleansian proverb – ‘Beauty is a dying flower’ – and the gorgeous map. Let’s face it, I’m an absolute sucker for books with a map! It’s a pity that there aren’t more books, of whichever genre, with maps in them. It really adds some character to a story.
Clayton’s novel starts off with an excerpt from The History of Orleans – ‘The God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty after the world began. Sky showered Beauty with gifts of his loveliest objects; the sun, the moon, the clouds, the stars.’ – this immediately transported me into a new world filled with magic and emotion, telling the tale of how The Belles came to be; a strong opening with a love story about a mother choosing her children over her husband. I imagine a lot of mothers can relate to this. This book is not just for a young audience!
We follow the story of how The Belles are trained to make people beautiful with their arcana. The arcana is a magical source in their blood and gets weak after long periods of beautifying the demanding rich citizens. They then get treatment to get their arcana levels back to normal before they start all over again.
“Dhonielle Clayton whipped up a story that pulls you in so deep, demanding your full attention, and unconsciously leading you to thoughts about the human desire for beauty.”
All six of The Belles are taken to court for a competition to see who would be the favourite. The winner gets to stay at the royal palace while her sisters each go to a different Teahouse to serve there. Camellia meets many new people, some of which are the epitome of evil, while others don’t even realize how their ambitions turn them into bad people. While trying to figure out who is trustworthy and who to avoid, she also has other problems to deal with. The choices that Camellia face, raises questions for the reader; how does our ambitions affect our lives? How does our influenced ideas of beauty affect our self-esteems? Do we have ‘evil’ people in our lives without us even noticing how bad they are for us?
There’s a ton of secrets and mysteries in this novel, and I’m in absolute awe of the sweet (literally) way that Clayton describes things. I had to keep a mountain of snacks nearby as I read The Belles because I was constantly reminded of food. She would write things like “The sky and its clouds are made of melting cherries and flaming oranges and burnt grapefruit” or “My powdered skin makes me look like an overly frosted piece of caramel cake.” And “Padma’s subject has limbs the rich color of honey bread”.
Aren’t you hungry after just reading this little paragraph?
Although I absolutely adored the book, and I look forward to the sequel, The Everlasting Rose, I was a little disappointed by the ending. It felt just a little rushed and I was overwhelmed by how fast it all happened.
It has overall been a very pleasant read and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed books like The Hunger Games (the citizens of Orleans have a similarly extravagant sense of fashion). Anyone who is interested in fictional cultures, feminism, and heroes on the rise should also read this.
Dhonielle Clayton whipped up a story that pulls you in so deep, demanding your full attention, and unconsciously leading you to thoughts about the human desire for beauty. This desire that has erupted, for so many, into a wild obsession. The story about the evil that has come from the characters’ need to be beautiful by the universal standards, has reminded me why I stopped wearing makeup so long ago. Beauty is a precious thing, but we must also learn to enjoy our natural appearances. We are, after all, not grey people with red eyes (called Gris).
I really enjoyed the fact that this book has more than one ‘bad guy’ and that they each have different levels of evil. They all played an important role, just as all the good characters did. It was easy to keep track of all the characters, even though there are so many of them.
Besides beauty, this book also touches serious topics like rape, abuse, and manipulation.
Published by: Freeform