Review: THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton
Fantasy, Young Adult
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. Dhonielle Clayton creates a rich, detailed, decadent world of excess and privilege, where beauty is not only skin-deep, but a complete mirage. Weaving deeper questions about the commodification of women’s bodies, gender equality, racial identity, and vanity with high-stakes action and incredible imagery, The Belles is the must-read epic of the season.
I’ve wanted to read this book since I first heard about it on Twitter. At first, I let the fact that it’s YA push it to the bottom of my list. In general, I don’t connect much with Young Adult books, they just don’t do it for me.
But when I saw it at the library this weekend, I snatched it up as fast as I could. 🙂 I started reading it that night, and at first, the fact that it’s in present tense threw me. But the writing was so beautiful, evocative and lyrical that I kept going, hoping it would suck me in.
It did. Oh did it ever. It kept me up late two nights running, and when I closed it for the last time last night, I had to sit with my feelings.
On the surface, this is a light-hearted tale that feels a little thin on plot, but by the time you get to the end of it, you realize you’ve been in the hands of a master storyteller all along and she’s just dumped you into the deep end of a royal intrigue you never saw coming.
I really need to get over my dislike of the present tense, because apparently, a lot of the diverse fantasy I long for is written in it. (It’s also present in a lot of YA, which I really wish I connected with more strongly.)
I think I connected with this one, because when I was a young adult, a bit older than the 16-year-old Camille, I was a model, so a lot of the things in this book spoke to me. From the descriptions, to what the character cared about to the sheer bone-grinding work of it all. It just worked for me. I really loved this book.
At the end, it leaves you wanting more and thinking deep thoughts about the MESSAGE of the book, which I didn’t really notice when I was reading it, but blows me away now that I’ve finished it.
You really don’t want to miss this one.
Readability: 5/5 almost threw me with it being YA and in the present tense, both of which generally don’t work for me. The beautiful language use kept me reading, and I’m glad I finished the book. Well worth the time investment.
ARCS: 5/5 SNEAKY! I didn’t see the plot coming, in fact I thought it was a little shallow on plot until it dropped me into the deep end. Masterfully done.
CRAFT: 5/5 have I said brilliantly executed yet? Deep, strong, much-needed message to young girls (and maybe old women and female presenting types too) and just a wonderful tale from start to finish. Can’t wait for the sequel.
Buy the book!