The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, published by Gollancz on 8th February 2018
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.
There has been a lot of pre-publicity buzz surrounding 'The Belles' which I seem to have seen featured everywhere. In addition, the book made my 'most anticipated reads' list of the year, so I was beyond excited to get my hands on a copy and get stuck in. The cover is absolutely gorgeous and really eye catching. It looks so pretty sitting on my bookcase. I'm definitely a sucker for beautifully designed cover art. The book doesn't really fall into one particular genre, although I guess it might fit the fantasy niche most of all.
I absolutely loved the concept of the story. It's set in Orleans where people are born grey and damned and only a Belle's powers can make them beautiful. Belles have something unique called arcana which they can use to shape peoples' looks and change things like their hair colour or the size of their waists. Orleans itself is magnificent and opulent and all the Belles want to stay there and be chosen as the Queen's favourite.
The story is told through the eyes of Camellia Beauregard who wants nothing more than to serve the Queen and make people beautiful. Although out of all the characters Camellia was my favourite, she wasn't somebody who I had a deep connection with and at times I found her a bit self-centred. She often finds it hard to follow the rules set out for her and her wilful personality definitely gets her into trouble at times. There are elements of romance with someone she meets at the Palace but I actually enjoyed the relationship between her and the other Belles the most. They are like sisters and are stronger when they are all together supporting one another. My love to hate character was Princess Sophia who really gave me the creeps. She represents someone who may look beautiful on the outside but has darkness and an evil streak inside of her.
The author certainly has a strong message to send about what beauty is and how people covert it. Beauty is often depicted as only skin deep and yet seen as something which is valued above all else. There are different notions of what makes someone beautiful in the story and how everyone wants to be unique and prettier or more handsome than anyone else.
I enjoyed finding out more about the origins of the Belles and as this book is the first in a trilogy, I expect there to be a lot more revelations to come. I wasn't quite as blown away by it as I was originally expecting which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it but it didn't grip me as much as I thought it would. The second half was a much slower read than the first half and the story veered down a different path which opened up new possibilities for the rest of the series.
An original and unique story which was a lot of fun to read and which I will be continuing with when the series resumes.