The Belles (The Belles #1) by Dhonielle Clayton

thebellesThe Belles is a book set in a world obsessed with beauty.  In one respect a social commentary on the lengths that people will go to in order to look beautiful on the outside but more than that a world that is far from beautiful when the surface is scratched,

For me this book was a surprise in more than one way.  I think I surprised myself by choosing it because frankly I read less YA these days and books filled with descriptions about beauty, hair and dresses are not really my typical sort of read – that isn’t a judgement on others just a statement of fact.  And yet, in spite of that I crumbled and requested a copy and here comes the final surprise – I enjoyed this more than I expected.  It was a fast read and quite beautifully written and whilst I have a few niggles this was an undoubtedly and unexpectedly easy book to get along with.  Just shows that maybe I need to sometimes be less hasty and reserve judgement until I’ve given a book a reasonable chance.

The book begins with a short history of Orléans.  At the start of the world the God of Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty and together they had the children of Orléans  The Goddess of Beauty was so enamoured with her children that she forgot the God of Sky and in his anger he cursed their children.  Their skin would be grey, their eyes red and their hair like dead straw (not really the worst curse imaginable, sounds a little like me after too much wine, anyway…)  Unable to break the curse the Goddess of Beauty blessed the people of Orléans with the Belles.  Beauties who would grow like roses in the dark and who would bring light to the people of the world.

We are then introduced to Camellia and the other five Belles who, having just turned sixteen, will perform their debuts before the Queen.  Every three years a Beauté Carnaval is held and after competing against each other the Belles will be selected to reside at various Imperial Tea Houses.  One of them will be given the coveted title of ‘Favourite’ and will serve only the Royal Family.  Up until this point the Belles have led a privileged but sheltered position.  They know little of the world that they are about to be thrust into and are about to discover that once alloted their various positions their lives will no longer resemble the first few years of the gilded bubble they previously enjoyed.  Their days will be filled with appointments for nobles and wealthy court people.  They will be at the demand of capricious clients whose whims to look fabulous are never ending and who change their appearance almost as often as they change their clothes.  Put bluntly, they will be little more than slaves, chaperoned from A to B, watched at all times and kept locked within their rooms in the few moments of leisure that they have. But, more than that, they will begin to discover that their innocent upbringing serves more than one purpose.  There are darker things afoot in Orléans.  The Palace and Tea Rooms are riddled with intrigue and on top of that, other than the superficial beauty treatments that they undertake, the Belles don’t really have much idea about the real magic they possess.

I won’t go further into the plot as it will ruin the read for others.  The real thrust of the story is one of courtly intrigue and whilst it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking it was intriguing nonetheless.

The world building is, I admit, a little skimpy, but, I believe that’s with good reason.  Camilla knows no more of Orléans than we do.  She was raised in the beauty school and the day of her debut is her, as well as the reader’s, first view of the world outside.  For me the descriptions of the place and people put me in mind of the court of Marie Antoinette – here is beauty, adorned with jewels and lavished with every extravagance.  At first I couldn’t quite come to terms with how they all lived such opulent lifestyles until I realised that we, again like the Belles, were only witnessing the tip of the iceberg – the elite of the world, not the ‘great unwashed’ masses.  These are the people who can afford to spend decadently on their outward appearances.  Not for them the grey skin or red eyes that the Sky God inflicted on his children.  The great majority of the public cannot afford these cosmetic changes and in this story we don’t get to visit them and see what sort of lives they lead.  I can only imagine there’s a great disparity and if it’s anything like the French court that it put me in mind of I suspect rebellion may be brewing outside the Palace’s gilded gates.

In terms of the characters.  We follow Camellia.  She’s certainly not a bad character although she doesn’t always make the wisest of decisions.  She’s very ambitious and keen to please and this combination means that she sometimes rushes into things that might not necessarily be the best choice.  I sometimes felt like I wanted to shake her but then I’d think – she’s sixteen, she’s led a protected life and isn’t familiar with the cut throat ways of a royal court where favour can be bestowed and removed in the blink of an eye.

 

So, criticisms.  I don’t really think I’ve got a proper handle on the Belles or their magic.  It seems to be something inherent in the blood, arcana, but I’m not going to try and explain further because I’ll just end up fudging things.  I think the plot was a little easy to predict – but then I’m not the target audience – and there are a couple of romantic threads and, yes, they did make me roll my eyes a little.  There are also a couple of scenes within the story, one an attempted assault and another that is tantamount to torture that I feel I should just point out.  However, they’re not over the top, gratuitous or graphic and they help to display the particular unsavoury character traits of the antagonist of the piece.

All in all I found this a quick and easy read.  The writing is lovely, if occasionally a little overly sweet, and I think there is a lot still to be further explored.  In a world that is becoming increasingly obsessed with self image it explores the lengths that people will go to to look beautiful and, given the plot, the book gives particular meaning to the old saying that beauty is only skin deep.  Like I said above, surprisingly easy to read given that my more recent experiences of YA have not always been good.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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18 Responses to “The Belles (The Belles #1) by Dhonielle Clayton”

  1. Tammy

    I’ve been wondering about this book, the cover design isn’t one that would draw me to request this, as it looks way too contemporary. But I’m glad it surprised you, that’s the best feeling, right?

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, it surprised me because I can find YA really not enough in terms of details – and it’s something that grates on me. This book does lack in detail but that lack feeds into the story because of the main protagonists lack of knowledge herself. So it feels like you’re learning at the same time she is. It still does feel quite YA and I don’t really understand the magic being used here but it was an easy, quick read for me.

  2. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    This one sounds really good, I could use a quick easy read. but agree with Tammy, the cover made me hesitate.

    • @lynnsbooks

      The cover would definitely make me pause – it looks very girly and I don’t really read books about dresses and fashion – there is obviously an element of that to the book so that has to be borne in mind, plus the YA element which doesn’t always work for me. I was intrigued by this and although I have more questions than answers at this point. But it was an easy read and I would be interested to see what the author does next.
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Intriguing… I like the theme of the world obsessed with beauty that’s only skin deep and willfully forgetful of the darkness hidden under it…
    Worth a peek, indeed. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I thought this was interesting. It’s YA and it did leave me with a lot of questions but I’m intrigued about the Belles and also about Orleans.
      Lynn 😀

  4. sjhigbee

    I do like the sound of this one as I’m a sucker for court intrigues… Thank you for an excellent review, Lynn:)

    • @lynnsbooks

      I was surprised by how easy this was to get on with. I still had plenty of answers and it wasn’t perfect in some respects but it kept me intrigued. It will be interesting to see if the second book answers some of my queries.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Hm… you’re not making it any easier for me to resist this one, you know…

      • @lynnsbooks

        Haha sorry 😀

  5. Rebecca

    Actually this sounds interesting!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I enjoyed it more than I expected. It’s still got the beauty theme running through it and it does very much have a YA feel, which sometimes I find irritating, but this one worked out okay. There’s gaps and questions unanswered but I think that was understandable given the holes in the main protagonists knowledge.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Based on the description I probably would have dismissed it a “not my kind of read” too, though the cover is lovely! I’m glad it surprised you though. Hmm, maybe I’ll keep an eye out on this one, I don’t want to close any doors!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I also wouldn’t normally have picked this one up – the cover is lovely but it wouldn’t appeal to me. I’m not quite sure why I picked it up but it was interesting. I don’t really love YA these days tbh, I usually find too many things that irritate me and there are plenty of unanswered questions here but I figure that’s part of the plot. I’m hoping that book 2 will be the flip side of the coin so we’ll see.
      Lynn 😀

  7. DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape)

    I am extrememtly suprized that actually does sound good. Nothing against the cover, but it not my type at all and, to be honest, was very off putting to me. But yeah, much better than I was expecting.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think the cover is a bit distracting in fact I’m puzzled I decided to read it because it wouldn’t normally appeal. Plus I’ve been having a bad run on YA. It’ll be interesting to see how the series continues.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Amanda @Cover2CoverMom

    I definitely understand the reservations of picking up a YA book, especially one that deals with a beauty obsessed world… I would also say this one wouldn’t be my cup of tea BUT I don’t want to cross it off completely either. Last year I read A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which I felt wouldn’t be my cup of tea and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’m interested to see where this goes next. I have unanswered questions but providing the next book comes from the flip side of the coin I’m hopeful the gaps will be filled in.
      Lynn 😀

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