I don’t read much YA fantasy anymore, and that’s on purpose. I felt duped by the ones I read in recent years because although they are categorized as fantasy, the romance is almost always the focus. Now, that’s not a problem, if that’s what you like and why you picked up the book, but it’s a disappointment for me. So because of that (and other reasons), I’ve been cautious about the YA fantasy books I choose to read.
But recently I read The Belles for a buddy-read with Rachel at Life of a Female Bibliophile. I’ve been curious about it, love the cover, and bought it after briefly meeting the author about a year or two ago. It was a quick read and certainly interesting, but… meh. I didn’t care much for it.
The Belles, book 1
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, 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 Orleans 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 Orleans 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. (Goodreads)
Reading this novel made me think of candy. I don’t know why. 🍭
The Belles is set in the kingdom of Orleans, where everyone’s goal is to be considered beautiful. I like the folklore that this world is built on: The god of the sky fell in love with the goddess of beauty and grew jealous of her children, with whom she spends much of her time. To protect her children from the god of the sky, the beauty goddess curse them with gray skin, red eyes, straw-like hair, and severe sadness that leads to madness. However, only a few, the Belles, are blessed with beauty that they can bestow on others.
The protagonist Camellia is one of the Belles. When the story begins, Camellia and her sisters are about to attend the Beauté Carnaval, where they will debut their skills in making others beautiful. Only one of them will be chosen as the queen’s favorite and receive the honor of residing at the palace and maintaining the royal family’s appearance. Camellia dearly hopes to be chosen as favorite, as her mother was, but things don’t go as she hopes and she later learns that being favorite comes with a price.
Umm… I think the story is okay. It took a while for me to get used to the writing. It’s a bit descriptive but although I love such prose, the flow of this one didn’t exactly work for me. However, as the story progressed, I got used to it and didn’t notice it as much. I appreciated the descriptions, however, because they helped to convince me of the opulent settings Camellia is often in. I wish there were a few illustrations throughout the story showing sketches of the clothing described, certain rooms in the palace, and the teacup pets (because they sound so cute! How adorable would it be to have a teacup dragon). I think that would have went well with the nature of the story.
Apart from descriptions of the setting and clothing, the magic system also interested me. Basically, the Belles have the ability to alter the appearance of others, so they do so to make the Orleanians beautiful and stave off the sadness that leads to madness that they are all susceptible to. Considering the twist at the end, I wonder how the Belles gain this ability. It almost makes me want to read the next book, but I’d prefer if someone just tells me.
The story is fast-paced. Things develop pretty quickly that I was surprised at how fast I got through half of the book. Much of the conflict derives from the princess, a tyrant who wants to be considered the most beautiful in the kingdom and will do and demand anything to get that. To me, she was a weak villain and lacked depth. I thought there would be more to the story than just the focus on being beautiful but there wasn’t. I understand that beauty is a crucial thing for the characters in this story, but I thought the underlying motivation of the characters would be more than just surface beauty.
Camellia hints at this sometimes because she often says her goal is for Orleanians to accept how they are instead of constantly changing their forms, but I was confused by this because she doesn’t seem to mean that she wants them to accept their natural form — gray and red-eyed with straw hair. Also the mention of the deep sadness doesn’t come into play in this book and I kept wondering why not, in what way does it affect the people, and is it touched on in the next book.
Of the characters, only Edel, the gutsy Belle, stood out to me. Although she’s only mentioned a few times, each time I wondered what she’d do next. I was more interested in her story than Camellia’s. Also, although Amber, another Belle, and Camellia are best friends, I wasn’t convinced of such a close relationship between them. I guess it’s because their relationship is contentious throughout this entire story, but, to me, Camellia seems closer to the other Belles, especially Edel, than Amber. I didn’t care for Camellia and definitely not for the princess, who was interesting at first because at first she attempted a pleasant façade that fooled Camellia, but then she devolved into a flat antagonist who often throws a tantrum.
I didn’t care for the romance I noticed developing in this book and was glad that it didn’t overtake the story. I suspect that a love triangle might appear in the next book and again I’m happy it didn’t appear in this one because I’m tired of those things. The two potential love interests were dull. I didn’t care for them either.
Overall ★★☆☆☆ ½
It was okay, but I won’t be continuing with the series.