The Belles, just like its title implies, is beautiful. This was author Dhonielle Clayton‘s first foray into YA fantasy, with her two previous co-written novels, Shiny Broken Pieces and Tiny Pretty Things, being YA contemporaries.
There has been a lot of build-up for this novel and I was one of the lucky ones who received an Advance Reading Copy last year. I have been waiting on pins and needles to post a review for it upon the book’s release.
The Belles follows Camellia Beauregard, one of the titular “Belles,” in a world where everyone is born with gray skin and hair and bright red eyes, the Belles are the sole people who can make everyone beautiful… for a price. Camellia grew up believing she would be chosen as the favorite of the Belles, meaning she would solely work for the royal family. It soon becomes apparent that being the favorite is not what she grew up imagining it would be. Court is full of intrigue, backstabbing, and Camellia is no longer sure who she can trust.
Dhonielle has said that The Belles was inspired by the way she saw the “commodification of women’s body parts” growing up. She wanted to write a commentary on the beauty standards placed on people and The Belles does exactly that. That does not mean the book is a preachy message dressed up in a pretty cover (but boy is that cover pretty). The Belles is a beautifully built world that engages the reader’s imagination.
My only complaint with the book is that the plot really does not pick up until about 100 pages in. Everything before that is world building and character set-up. We learn about Orleans and what the Belles are and get little hints of the plot, but things don’t kick off until a quarter of the way into the book. However, those 100 pages are so enjoyable, you almost don’t notice. Every sentence is beautifully constructed, and the world is built in such magnificent ways that you don’t mind just reading about the setting. I know that I now want a miniature elephant.
Dhonielle does a good job of showing that beauty comes in all kinds of variations. Even though Camellia is supposed to create perfect people, she is often at odds with her clients by telling them their imperfections are what makes them unique and beautiful. Of course, Camellia receives a lot of pushback for such sentiments, but it is an important thing for our young girls to read right now.
Come see me on tour for #TheBelles. I can’t believe it’s already February. I can’t believe this book is headed out in the world, and might be out already in certain places. I’m equal parts excited and terrified. I’m so grateful for awesome friends being in conversation with me! #leighbardugo #marielu #brandycolbert #brittalundin #gretchenmcneil #aaronhartzler #mariekenijkamp #sabaatahir #jasonreynolds #adamsilvera