The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Published: February 8th 2018 by Gollancz
“No one is a prisoner. Even you have the power to make your own choices.”
I am a Belle. I control Beauty.
In the opulent world of Orléans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.
Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.
When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.
One of my friends read an ARC copy of this book and immediately recommended I read it so for a change I did as I was told and devoured this book the first chance I got. I was not disappointed! This wasn’t a book that had particularly been on my radar previously but when said friend described it to me as “darker than it looks” I found myself unable to resist.
I like the cover for this book which is strange for me as I often don’t like covers with people on them, especially because more often than not they look nothing like they are described in the books (See Luce’s long hair instead of short on the Fallen cover for example) but this fits how I imagine the MC to look and I love the lighting effects in the top left corner as well. The letters used for the title falling apart came across as a little strange at first but I think maybe they’re meant to represent the reshaping of beauty that The Belles can do?
I enjoyed the writing in this book and I especially loved the headlines used to further the story and add little funny or intriguing moments throughout. To begin with I was really intrigued and fascinated about the process and different tools that The Belles use to change and beautify their clients but about half way to about three quarters of the way through the book the samey descriptions begun to bug me and I found myself skimming them a lot of the time, especially as events got more heated. The writing style on the whole though was smooth and easy to read.
The plot itself was intriguing and although most of it is fairly obvious from the synopsis there were much darker elements to this story which boosted it for me as alone I feel the story would have been a little too plain. What really made this a book I’ll remember though was the emotion it evoked in me. I’m used to being sad, happy crying and ugly sobbing but this was harder to explain and that was anger.
I wasn’t mad at the book exactly but think back to Harry Potter, the only character that was arguably more hated than Voldemort was Professor Umbridge. For her derranged mind, her manipulation of the system and outright abusiveness. Most people don’t hate the books or films because of her but it tends to generate a righteous anger towards the character herself. A character in this evoked a very similar feeling for me and I wanted them to burn for the things they did, any scene with this particular person in had me instantly gritting my teeth in rage and…I enjoyed that. I don’t think the kind of hate I have for that character would have been possible if I hadn’t been invested in the other characters and the plot so much. As a previous victim of bullying when I was younger it really struck a cord with me when other characters were left helpless to the point were I shed tears of frustration and rage.
I didn’t find the main character to be anything majorly special to begin with and the romance based interactions had me roiling my eyes and hoping the scenes would end so we could get back to the good stuff but that’s quite possibly just me. The other Belles weren’t especially interesting either but I did like that they were easily identifiable via their individual characteristics which made them easy to keep track of if not especially interesting.
A great aspect of The Belles I feel, is the setting as I found it enjoyably difficult to place, it feels like it’s somewhere between an alternative, not quite steampunky past and a strange decadent dystopian future akin to the likes of “The Capitol” in the Hunger games universe, complete with teacup elephants and dragons to fabric dye that animates and changes colour as well as features such as (my personal favourite) post balloons! I imagine these as tiny decorated blimps with trailing coloured ribbons and I always loved the descriptions of these whenever they were present in the story.
Overall this was one of the better books I have read this year but a few too many little nuances prevented it from reaching that XXXXX mark for me. I revelled in the rage fuelled page turning towards the end of the book and I was eager for more and more. I found the ending fairly disappointing but will more than likely be picking up the second in the series when it releases but I’m not sure it’s something I will preordering for release day.