Monday, January 29, 2018

The Belles (The Belles #1) by Dhonielle Clayton

Firstly, thanks to Hachette Australia for this review copy <3

Date Read: January 22 - 29 2018
Date Released: February 8 2018
Publisher: Gollancz (Hachette Australia)
Source: E-galley via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

"Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, 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 Orléans 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 Orléans 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."


The Belles was like nothing I’d ever read before. Clayton has created a completely unique world where people are born with grey skin, red eyes and straw-like hair. Nobody is exempt, not even royalty. Only the Belles, born with the gifts of the Goddess of Beauty, can alter someone’s appearance, give them colour and make them beautiful. Beauty is all that matters in the world of Orleans.

Protagonist Camellia (she prefers to be called Camille) is one of six Belles of her generation vying for the esteemed title of ‘favourite’ to serve the royal family as their Belle. Trained since birth she is determined to be the favourite and is adamant that not only does she deserve the title more than her sisters, she is also ready because she is the best. I’m now going to proceed and word vomit on her character. Camille is very obviously not ready to face court, she’s not even ready to face the real world. I don’t know what du Barry (the keeper of the Belles if you will) was teaching them for 16 years but it was not in touch with reality. Camille is extremely naïve with regards to the world around her. There is a time and place for everything. We’re meant to learn from our mistakes. She repeats her mistakes, and what seemed like naivety in the beginning, turns into ignorance and stupidity by the end. She has basically no character growth. After spending ages amongst aristocrats and royalty, being amongst their games, being the target of their games, you’d think she gets it. Know when to speak, know when to keep her mouth shut and observe, learn, strategise. Learn to play their games and be SMARTER than them. Nope. If she’d done this she wouldn’t have landed in as many as the horrible situations she did (but then I guess there’d be no story?). Her ignorance is obvious in the way that people tell her she’s being watched, listened to, her every move tracked. She goes and runs off, has what she thinks are ‘private’ conversations with other people, completely oblivious to the eyes and ears that are everywhere. I am so done with her. I got so frustrated I wanted to throw my Kindle. These qualities of hers dominated my reading experience and negated all the good in her.

Clayton introduces a whole host of secondary characters that are complex and memorable. These are the ones that kept me reading. There’s the other Belles, especially the temperamental rule follower Amber who is Camellia’s best friend and rival. The fiery Edel who loves to break rules and is my personal favourite. I was also intrigued by Camille’s guard Remy (can I announce now that I ship them, don’t worry no spoilers) who is perpetually stoic but has a good heart. Most interesting of all is the Princess Sophia. Erratic, controlling and in my opinion, something’s not right about her from the moment we meet her. There are parts of Sophia’s character that were blatantly obvious to me and I’m hoping Clayton explores her further and digs deeper into her personality. I’d made certain assumptions about Sophia very early on and so far to the end I was right. I’d like Clayton to prove me wrong and show me there’s more depth to her in the sequel. I loved reading about all these different characters Camille interacted with. They really painted a picture of the value of beauty, perfection and court life.

Of course there’s romance. Ship it I do not (haha punny, you’ll get it when you read). It felt forced, fake and totally lacking in chemistry. Honestly, I thought there was more chemistry between Camille and Remy who was basically expressionless so you know how I feel about all this.

I found the plot arc for this first book quite predictable but there’s also an overarching story regarding the Belles and their history which fascinated me. Clayton slowly peels back the layers and I loved discovering more about their powers. The pacing is slow for the majority of the book with the plot slowly unfurling but the big reveal happens quite quickly and it kind of ends in a cliff-hanger. Got me all excited for the next book which I can tell will expand on the world!

My favourite part of The Belles was hands down the world-building and Clayton’s writing. I went to see the Australian Ballet perform Sleeping Beauty late last year and it had the most beautifully opulent set, gorgeous pastel colours throughout and decadent costumes. Stepping into Clatyon’s Orleans felt like watching Sleeping Beauty all over again. The world is luxurious, opulent, ostentatious. In a society where people are born without colour, they substitute this loss by surrounding themselves with it. Not only by altering their appearances constantly to cover the grey, but by dressing in increasingly exuberant outfits and living luxurious lifestyles. Think Laduree on fleek. Pastel macarons, cakes, petit fours, all the dainty teacups and everything you’d need for a tea party. The most flashy gowns bordering on ridiculous. This is their daily life. Clayton pulls the reader in with her flowery writing and descriptions. It’s filled with imagery utilising blooms, desserts and a wide colour gamut. I fell in love with this world.

Clayton’s opulent world is enhanced with her lovely writing and balanced with the undercurrent of danger beneath the gorgeous façade of Orleans. In a world where beauty is literally everything, people will go to any resort to stay on top of the game. This is a game I’m quite happy to observe.

No comments:

Post a Comment