The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Published February 6th, 2018
I received a copy of The Belles through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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 rated The Belles 2/5 stars on Goodreads.
This review, like all my review, is spoiler-free.
Many moons ago, I found an image of The Belles cover on NetGalley and was obsessed. The jewel-toned colors and strikingly beautiful cover model drew me into this book instantly, and after reading the synopsis, I was utterly enthralled. A twisted perspective on beauty, a young girl with the power to change it all, and a princess? Now that’s a book I want to read.
Unfortunately, my expectations were misguided. While I was anticipating royal intrigue and a delightfully lush atmosphere, The Belles was full of overbeaten descriptions and lackluster plot. I was so disappointed in this book, and here’s why.
First of all, the descriptions of the kingdom of Orléans irritated me from the first page to the last page. The elaborate explanations were plenty fanciful, but they stood in the way of my understanding of the world. Rather than describing the moods evoked while looking at certain aspects of the culture, I felt like Clayton was spoon-feeding me descriptions by outlining every detail, no matter how trivial. I spent too much brainpower deciphering what the world looked like when all I needed to know was that the architecture was grandiose.
This excessive worldbuilding also stunted the opportunities for human expression of emotion and thoughts. Rather than describing the pain of missing her late mother, Camellia says “I miss Maman.” Instead of sharing how fear rattled in her chest, she says “I was scared of this person.” Camellia’s emotions are laid out for us to see in plain light with labels that say “Camellia is feeling this exact emotion at this exact time.” The poetic interpretation and flowery language that I like in a story were scarce if present at all.
Here’s my most prominent question about the world: one of the central tenets of Orléans is the appreciation of continually changing one’s features to create a new face. If people are changing how they look every day, how does one distinguish themselves from every other citizen of Orléans? Shouldn’t identity theft be a significant problem? Vocal recognition and mannerisms can carry identity, but we are visual creatures who know how to recognize faces from infancy. This question of how people differentiate themselves in a world of changing faces was wholly overlooked and might have added some much-needed richness to the world, had it been addressed.
The characters, while unique as individuals, served purposes in the plot that were somewhat typical and riddled with tropes. There’s the beautiful “chosen one” who’s afraid of the world she thought she would love, the mysterious and charming boy who swoops in from nowhere, the kind servant girl with the kind heart, the flamboyant and ignorant team of stylists, the jaded personal guard who’s actually a big softie once you crack his hard exterior. Diverse characters are fantastic, but I felt that what the characters had in diversity, they lacked in personality.
This carried over into the romantic subplot between Camellia and one of our dashing male characters. After saying three and a half words to him, she believes she’s in love. I find this somewhat difficult to believe, mainly because one of the rules of being a Belle is never speaking to men outside of a treatment setting. She’s never kissed a boy or been touched by a boy, and I’m supposed to believe she knows how to have a relationship, let alone fall in love? I don’t buy it.
Overall, I was thoroughly disappointed by The Belles. While I was looking for a richness of character and an exciting and unique plot, what I read was anything but stellar.
Have you read The Belles?
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