The Beautiful (The Beautiful #1) by Renée Ahdieh

TheBeautifulThe Beautiful is going to be a difficult book for me to review.  In short, it didn’t really work for me although there are elements that are really good and I enjoyed the writing.  To be honest, and also fair to the author, I think I went into this with the wrong expectations and that’s totally on me.  I’ve checked out the synopsis on Goodreads again before writing this review and this is described much more as a dark murder mystery with hints that supernatural elements will play a part so I’m not entirely sure why I was so hyped for ‘the return of the vampire’ – which is the very reason I ended up feeling let down.  At this moment, I wish I had a time turner, I wish I could go back and pick up this book with no notion of what it’s about, go into the story with fresh eyes and then evaluate my feelings for it.  As it is, I can’t help feeling a little deflated but at the same time that feeling is tinged a little with regret because I feel like I duped myself somehwere along the line.

I’m not going to go overboard about the plot, to boil it down this is a story of a young woman (Celine Rousseau) running away from something dark in her past only to find herself in a situation that is far more dangerous.  Out of the frying pan into the fire basically.  Brutal murders have left the inhabitants of New Orleans reeling and it certainly isn’t safe to wander the streets at night.  Celine soon finds herself embroiled in the dangerous Cour des Lions where her attraction to the handsome Sébastien Saint Germain becomes quickly obvious.  This is an attraction that will lead to her drawing unwanted attention.

Is The Beautiful a book about vampires?  Yes.  The book involves vampires, although it does take quite some time for this to become apparent, like I said above this is more about the murders and, more than that, about the motive as to why they’re taking place. I can’t really go into that though without revealing spoilers so suffice to say that the supernatural elements of the story are fundamental and the final revelations leave me thinking that the next instalment has plenty of potential for those elements to play a much bigger role.

So, ‘expectations managed’.  This is becoming one of my key phrases of late and I think it’s spot on.  I do have a tendency to let my imagination run away with me.  Think, murder mystery, think slowly revealed supernatural elements, think of a book that is really something of a set up for a series that could become something much more ‘vampire involved’.

With those provisions in mind The Beautiful does exactly what it promises.  The writing is good and in fact, in spite of my reservations about certain issues, this was a very quick read that definitely held my attention and kept me intrigued to the end.  It wasn’t weighed down with over elaborate descriptions (although this is something of a double edged sword for me) and there were some lovely creepy elements to the story that gave me the goosebumps.

In terms of my reservations. Two of them are probably fundamental in helping me to blow up my expectations in the first place.  The setting and the period.  This is 19th century New Orleans.  Ohh, how could I help myself.  My imagination simply ran riot and the reality fell a little short. To be blunt, I didn’t necessarily feel like I was reading about New Orleans, the place felt like it could have been any other city in the world and the historic period too just simply didn’t seem to really add anything.  Yes, of course there was much discussion about fashion and dresses, food and restaurants and these of course helped to provide a little richness but it didn’t feel like the period came across at all, Celine very much felt like a modern thinking woman and whilst I like her spirit and admire her desire to fling off social restrictions, I think for a young woman, living under the care of nuns, during the Victorian period in a city where a murderer is on the loose – well, I think she had a heck of a lot more freedom than you would expect.  Why not just write the story from a modern perspective.

The characters.  Again, mixed feelings.  I can’t say I really fell for either Celine or Sébastien and I’m not sure why.  Too much talk perhaps of how gorgeous they both were which always feels a little superficial to me and also the chemistry between the two felt lacking.  Celine wants adventure but this comes across as little more than a desire to place herself in the vicinity of Sébastien and Sebastien feels a little like one of those characters who you’re constantly told is ‘dangerous’ but there’s a lot more telling than showing.  I really didn’t feel like there was anything dangerous about him at all – other than the strange company he mixed with.  The characters I really liked in fact played much smaller roles – Celine’s friend from the convent – Pippa, and her newest friend and acquaintance – Odette.  Both are characters I could have happily read a lot more about.

Overall, this probably all sounds very negative which is definitely not my intention. I certainly wouldn’t wish to put anyone off from reading this but I think it’s better to go into the read with the right expectations.  This was entertaining and it definitely had a decent pace.  There were elements that had a lovely gothic feel – although I would have liked more, and I think it really does set out the stall for the next book.  One thing that this experience has left me with is a desire to read more books with vampires and gauging the reaction of other readers I’d say I’m not alone in that respect.

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

My rating 3 out of 5 stars.