The cover of this novel is beautiful. For that reason alone, I was happy to have it on my shelves, but I was curious about the story too. I read Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic last year and liked it, so I was eager to try something else by her, and The Beautiful Ones had been getting lots of praise. So, when my book club selected it as one of our reads, I wasted no time purchasing it.
2017; repubbed in 2021
They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.
But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina — and himself — that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon. (Goodreads)
The Beautiful Ones is Moreno-Garcia’s novel of manners about a young woman named Nina entering society for the first time with the help of her cousin, Gaétan Beaulieu, who dotes on her, and his beautiful wife, Valérie. Nina is a loving but headstrong girl who has grown to enjoy her own company since many in her small town teasingly call her the witch of Oldhouse because she has difficulty controlling her telekinesis. Believing that it will be impossible for Nina to find a husband in her hometown, her family sends her to the city Loisail, where Gaétan lives, to enter the Grand Season there.
While at a party in Loisail, Nina meets the famous magician, Hector Auvray, whose work she greatly admires. Realizing that Nina is his chance at gaining entry to the Beaulieu household, Hector begins to court Nina in hopes of getting close to Valérie, who was his sweetheart for a brief time in his younger years. Hector hopes that reconnecting with Valérie will rekindle their love for each other and hopefully prompt her to run away with him now that he has gained much success as a magician. But what Hector doesn’t realize is that the beautiful Valérie has changed much from the girl he idolized.
Unfortunately, my reading experience with this book wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. I was bored for the first half, and so too were my book club members, and was frustrated by the second half. I think the reason may be because I didn’t care for the characters, except Nina. However, much of the story seems to focus on Hector and Valérie and the connection between them than it does Nina. Or, it could be that Hector and Valérie generated such a strong emotional response from me that I think the story mostly focuses on them. I disliked reading Valérie’s parts and most of Hector’s. I think both are awful characters, awful in that I extremely disliked them. I think Moreno-Garcia did a great job creating them, creating characters I can’t help disliking.
But despite being frustrated by it, the second half was riveting and I quickly sped through those parts. I think it’s in the second half of the story that I began to soften toward Hector because his regard for and approach to Nina changed. Once he began to be honest and more genuine in his interactions with her, I became more interested in the story. Valérie, I hated the entire time, as we are supposed to. I pitied her as well because she’s so consumed by anger and hate that she is unable to see or appreciate anything positive about her life. It’s sad and unfortunate that her family and her society (being one of the Beautiful Ones, i.e., of the upper class) drove her to such a state because she was forced to marry someone she doesn’t love in an attempt to slow her family’s depleting wealth. So now Valérie believes everyone, especially Nina, should suffer as she has.
Another reason why I was disappointed by the story is because (despite the many reviews I read) I went in expecting the fantasy to be stronger. However, the fantasy was a speck in the background while the story focuses on the characters’ romance and the drama they get themselves in. Because of that, I’ve taken to thinking of the book as mainly romance set in a Victorian-inspired world with a touch of fantasy for the telekinesis included.
The story didn’t work for me, but it is well written and quite riveting in the second half as the characters have your emotions roiling as you wonder what will become of them all by the end.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I mean… look at that cover!