Published by Disney-Hyperion on February 6, 2018
Genres: Diversity, Fantasy, Young Adult
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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.
Trigger warnings: sexual assault, animal cruelty, torture
The Belles was a book that was on many people’s most highly anticipated books of 2018 list and it was the main reason why I picked up the audiobook last month. I went into it without really knowing anything and without having seen very many reviews. To say that I was disappointed is probably an understatement.
The pacing and plot were the biggest disappointments for me. The Belles is set in a world where everybody (including royalty) is born with grey skin, straw-like hair and red eyes, and are only made to look beautiful by the work of the Belles. The Belles are born with ‘blessed blood’ that allow them to use magic to alter the appearances and temperament of others, and are trained from a young age. Once older, they compete in a competition to become ‘The Favourite’ who works in the palace to transform and maintain the beauty of those at court, while the others are sent to teahouses to perform their beauty work on lower-status members of society. The book begins with the competition, where our protagonist, Camellia Beauregard, is vying for the position of Favourite. Once in her new role, she discovers dark secrets and encounters dark and twisted people that may destroy the entire Belle system. While the world is undoubtedly beautiful in this novel, that was perhaps its only saving grace. The world building did still seem slightly weak to me and there are elements that were either not well explained or not explained at all. Other parts of the world just confused the heck out of me, including their whole postal system, which involved sending messages carried by ‘post balloons’ that were directed to their destination by air postmen by changing the wind. Or something like that…
The novel had practically no plot for the first two-thirds and was excruciatingly slow-paced, before running full-steam ahead for the last third, skipping over important details. There were little side arcs that the book never really came back to and, while I know that there is going to be a sequel, it just felt unresolved. There was nothing really keeping me hooked and the last third made me feel so intensely uncomfortable with everything that happened that it was a really unsatisfying finish. Not to mention the cliffhanger at the end… Despite the beautiful cover of the novel, the book contains some dark themes and graphic scenes. There is sexual assault, a few instances of animal cruelty, and two instances (that I can remember) of burying our gays. One of these two instances was an extremely long and drawn out scene where a sapphic character was tortured to death in front of an audience and her lover, after being forced into an engagement with a sexual assaulter. Not to mention, it was used to move the plot forward slightly and then the whole instance was forgotten about.
May you always find beauty.
Camellia was an underwhelming main character in my opinion. There was nothing really noteworthy about her and she made quite a few silly decisions throughout the book that didn’t make sense to me (she’s pretty much a Bella Swan). In fact, I found most of the characters to be a little bit flat and vain, while some were just downright dislikeable. The villain of the story was cruel and psychopathic, and we were just bombarded with instances of how cruel and villainous she was over and over. It was extremely unsettling to read about and I wish there was less of it and more attention paid to the plot instead. I do have to mention that there is #ownvoices POC rep and, despite the problematic LGBTQIA+ rep (there was also misgendering of a trans characters), the book does a great job of highlighting the beauty of darker skin. The novel also does a decent job of portraying deformities, scars, curvy figures as being beautiful through Camellia’s personal beliefs, but most of the characters condemned these imperfections.
There is a bit of romance in The Belles but it was lacklustre af and probably not even worth mentioning. There was a complete lack of chemistry and while there was some subpar flirting and bantering, it definitely does not hold a light to the banter between Audrey Rose and Thomas from the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. There was probably more chemistry between Camellia and her bodyguard, Remy, who had the personality of a very uninteresting rock. There is, however, a lot of focus on other relationships that I found much more interesting. The relationship between Camellia and her maid, Bree (Brie? sorry I listened to the audiobook), was one of deep trust and support that I loved reading about. I also enjoyed the relationship Camellia had with her sisters, though the competition and tension between them was kind of frustrating.
Overall, while the concept and world of the book had lots of promise, I found the plot to be lacking and the book to be extremely slow-paced. The writing was beautiful but too flowery, descriptive and repetitive. I found the main character to be quite flat and underwhelming but enjoyed some of the friendships in the book. I’m not sure that I enjoyed the novel enough to want to pick up the sequel and will definitely be checking out many reviews beforehand if I decide to.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Thank you to Hachette Australia for providing a review copy of the book.
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