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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Weekly Wrap Up : 11/02/18

Posted On 11 February 2018

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Hi everyone.   Such a busy week this last one.  Travelling, celebrating birthdays and generally being entirely too sociable for my own good.  I did very little reading for most of the week and was clearly absent from the blog but now I’m back and I’ve managed to read a couple of books and make it half way through a third.  I’m disastrously behind with reviews so need to sit down and catch up.  So, without further ado:

Books read:

  1. Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift
  2. Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S Pembroke

Next Week’s Reads:

  1. Semiosis by Sue Burke
  2. The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale (50% already read)
  3. Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson

 

Upcoming reviews:

  1. Starborn by Lucy Hounsom
  2. Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace
  3. The War of Undoing by Alex Perry (my first SPFBO book)
  4. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
  5. Chaos Trims My Beard by Brett Herman
  6. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Vintage Sci Fi book)
  7. The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
  8. Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift
  9. Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S Pembroke

I’d love to know what you’re reading this week.

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert

Posted On 10 February 2018

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hazelThe Hazel Wood is a book that is a combination of quest, redemption and dark fairy tale all rolled into one. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The writing was really good but more than that the book actually spoke to me, and I realise that probably sounds a little bit sentimental but this was about change, coming of age, discovering who you are and having the courage to alter those things that seem set in stone.  It also gave me a serious case of the goosebumps that were bad enough to stop me reading late into the dark – I don’t know why, perhaps I’m just a bit of a wimp.

As the book begins we learn about Alice.  Alice and her mother have been on the run for as long as she can remember.  A long time ago Alice’s grandmother wrote a book of dark fairy tales that became a cult classic. Very few copies of the book can be found and although it appeared to be adored, and indeed inspired a strong following, very few people now know much about the stories. It seems like the people who read the book become somewhat obsessive and one of Alice’s earliest memories was of a man abducting her and trying to take her to her grandmother.  Since then, Alice and her mother have barely kept one step ahead of the perpetual bad luck that seems to follow them around and which has, in fact, with the death of her grandmother, finally caught them up. Alice returns home from school one day to find her mother missing and against advice knows that the only place to look is her grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood.

The setting is a combination of contemporary and fairytale.  A good portion of the story takes part in New York where Alice and her mother have finally put down tentative roots and indeed seem to have momentarily forgotten to keep on the move. The latter chapters of the story take part in the Hazel Wood and are a riot of mixed up fairy tales that make Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland seem almost sane.

Alice comes across as a fairly hard character.  She can be brutally honest, she doesn’t particularly mix well or make friends easily and in fact can be a bit difficult to get along with.  However, stick with her.  She’s definitely flawed and maybe not always easy to like but then a life on the run has made her develop a protective armour of snarky indifference and her character flaws become somewhat more understandable as the story unfolds.

Ellery Finch is the other main character of the story.  He’s one of Alice’s classmates and, as it turns out, a strong fan of the stories penned by Alice’s grandmother, which given the obsessive nature of some of the fans, did give me a slight feeling of unease.  Two things about Ellery – one good and one maybe not so much.  I must admit that I really appreciate that Ms Albert didn’t make him into a romantic lead but as much as I appreciated that aspect at the same time I couldn’t help feeling that his story was a little bit contrived in terms of moving the plot forward.  Given Alice’s time on the road I think it would have been more than plausible if she had managed by herself.

The plot is the real winning element of this book, and of course the lovely writing.  The two together combine to make an intriguing story that you feel compelled to read.  As I said above there were definitely mystery elements to this book.  I needed to find out more and to be honest I would have loved to have learned more of the original fairy tales explored here as the few snippets that were on display made fascinating reading.

In terms of criticisms.  I think some readers may find the start of the story, which is predominantly contemporary with a hint of creepiness thrown in, a little longer than they might wish for.  Particularly so as it feels that the fantasy elements of the story only really take a hold during the latter stages of the book.  I didn’t have a problem in that respect but thought I should raise the issue as some readers may be more interested in a full on fantasy read.  Obviously there’s the fact that Alice can be a bit abrasive – although, again, I found her character to be understandable.  So, I think the only real criticism that I can share, with the above provisos in mind, is that this is one of those stories where the main character is kept in the dark about so many things – by a number of people – and it’s actually quite annoying.  For example Finch – he’s read and loved all Alice’s grandmother’s stories but does he tell her all about them all?  No, of course not, because that way would lie the way of spoilers.

Overcall, whilst there were a couple of elements that gave me pause for thought overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It had me hooked to the page trying to find out more about Alice. and the mystery that surrounded her family.

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

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“I don’t need a cloak to become invisible.”

FFO.jpg

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .   This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book, compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below. This week’s theme:

My what big teeth you have’ – a cover featuring a cloaked figure 

I don’t imagine that anybody would struggle to find a suitable book for this week’s themes (cloaks in fantasy are like sprinkles on donuts).  My book this week is Anna Smith Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives.  A very impressive first book in the Empires of Dust series:

I like both of these, the second has a sense of anarchy which is well suited to the book but my favourite is the starkness portrayed by the first:

court2

Which is your favourite?

Next week – a cover that is retro

Future themes:

16th February – ‘Groovy baby’ – a cover that is: Retro

23rd February – “There are too many steps in this castle, and it seems to me they add a few every night, just to vex me”  – a cover featuring a staircase

2nd March – ‘The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing’ – a cover featuring something from Greek mythology

9th March – ‘…but Icarus flew too close’ – a cover featuring the Sun

16th March – ‘I got no strings to hold me down’ – a cover featuring a doll or puppet

23rd March – “When she was a child, the witch locked her away in a tower that had neither doors nor stairs.” – a cover featuring a Tower

30th March – ‘A little soil to make it grow’ – a cover featuring seeds/spores

6th April –  “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” – a cover featuring a family

13th April – ‘lawns and rocks and heather and different sorts of trees, lay spread out below them, the river winding through it’ –  a cover featuring a panorama

20th April – Where there’s fire there’s… – a cover featuring smoke

27th April – ‘Those darling byegone times… with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture’ – a cover that is positively mediaeval 

4th May-  ‘A Hand without a hand? A bad jape, sister.’ – a cover featuring a hand/hands

11th May – ‘Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth’ – a cover featuring a dinosaur/s

18th May – ‘Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;’ – a cover featuring a gravestone

25th May – Trip trap, trip trap, trip trap – a cover featuring footsteps

1st June – clinging and invasive – a cover featuring creeping vines

8th June – Raining Cats and Dogs – a cover featuring a stormy sky

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Sisters Mederos by Patrice Sarath

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is: The Sisters Mederos by Patrice Sarath. 

I love the sound of this one and the cover is very eye catching:

the sistersTwo sisters fight with manners, magic, and mayhem to reclaim their family’s name, in this captivating historical fantasy adventure.

House Mederos was once the wealthiest merchant family in Port Saint Frey. Now the family is disgraced, impoverished, and humbled by the powerful Merchants Guild. Daughters Yvienne and Tesara Mederos are determined to uncover who was behind their family’s downfall and get revenge. But Tesara has a secret – could it have been her wild magic that caused the storm that destroyed the family’s merchant fleet? The sisters’ schemes quickly get out of hand – gambling is one thing, but robbing people is another…

Together the sisters must trust each other to keep their secrets and save their family.

Due for publication April 2018.

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