The Belles

In the opulent world of Orléans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.

Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.

When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is one of the most hyped releases of the year so far, and for me, at least, it did not disappoint. It has been a long while since I’ve lost myself in a fantasy world so completely. The novel is the epitome of slow burn, a choice that is vital to a narrative in which absolutely nothing is what it initially seems.

Clayton has packed so much into these pages: a riveting mystery, a terrifying villain, deep analysis of the commodification of women’s bodies and how the idea of beauty in itself can be monstrous. It’s a book about high status people, and people who were taught to believe they had such status while actually never having any power at all. There are two hot guys in it: a charming prince and stern, disapproving guard. I would have both, and I hope by the end of the series, Camellia does.

In the world of Orléans, beauty is the most valuable commodity available. Everyone except the Belles is born grey and shrivelled with red eyes, but with the power of the Belles they are able, depending on their resources, to turn themselves into either a regular looking human or a spectacularly ‘beautiful’ one. In this story, the regular humans we spend time with are all either royals or noblemen and women and so their lives are consumed with keeping up with the latest beauty trends – everything from blue skin to metallic golden hair. Each procedure is incredibly painful, but people go back time and again because living in their natural grey form is completely socially unacceptable. Their lives and resources are all consumed by achieving beauty.

Sound familiar?

The ideal of beauty is a trap so thoroughly entrenched in how society functions that its value is never questioned, an idea Clayton personifies with the Belles, who initially believe they are and very much appear to be of the highest status in society, but are in fact little more than slaves. When we first meet Camellia and the other Belles they are travelling from where they grew up, completely cut off from the rest of the world, to take on their roles in society. They’re (mostly) excited to start, and (mostly) don’t question their role or status, believing as they have been taught that they are vital to society’s function – that makes them really important, right? If ‘important’ means working long hours with no days off for no money in a way that slowly destroys your body and depletes your powers all while being totally cut off from everyone you’ve ever known AND never allowed to leave your new ‘home’… then sure… *side eye*

This is where Clayton’s slow burn style truly comes into its own. Even while as the reader you’re thinking ‘there is something seriously wrong with this situation’, the Belles aren’t, because this is all they’ve ever known. They are slaves who have been tricked into believing they’re Goddesses, and it takes some serious time – and trauma – to de-programme themselves from the propaganda they have received for their entire lives.

Oh, it’s just SO GOOD.

I have not been this excited for a sequel in ages. You know that bit at the end of Handmaid’s Tale season 1 where June and the other handmaids refuse to murder Janine as ordered, then they all march off together and June thinks “they should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army”*? I CAN’T WAIT for the Belles to have that moment.

Bring on book 2!

*side note, almost a year later I cry EVERY TIME I even think about that scene and, in fact, had to pause writing this post to go compose myself. I don’t know about you, but that was probably the greatest moment of fictional catharsis I have EVER experienced.

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Author: Lydia Tewkesbury

25. Loves a good story.

20 thoughts on “The Belles”

  1. What a fantastic review, I loved reading this so, so much and I am thrilled that this book met your expectations and more. I absolutely loved it as well, the world building and the world itself was fascinating and, if it was a bit slow for the first half, really, there always is this sort of fascinating tension overall. I can’t wait to read the sequel either 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I really enjoyed writing this one. This is one of those books I had endless things to say about so ending the review was hard. I know what you mean about the pacing – but I think it all served a purpose for the wider narrative of the book. I hope book two lives up to expectations!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been so scared to start this book because the hype has been a little crazy. But I love the whole idea of this and the setting is something I can’t wait to read. I have no immediate plans to read this but that sounds like a good thing if it’s going to be a little torturous waiting for the sequel 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean – the hype machine has been in overdrive and that can be off putting. I hope you like it when you do get around to it though. I would recommend picking it up when you haven’t read anything like it in a while. It really singles itself out in the YA/fantasy/dystopia genres, but I think is still probably best read when your brain isn’t full of the usual dystopia-lite, love triangle melodrama these kinds of books often are.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly keen on trying this book out. I didn’t find the plot too interesting or “unique” and it felt like something I had read before somehow… Your review, however, completely dispelled that notion! You made it sound so awesome and genius that I absolutely must try and read it now.
    I haven’t personally watched The Handmaid’s Tale yet but the way you described that scene makes it a MUST watch as well.
    Amazing review, Lydia!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a compliment! Thank you so much! I totally know what you mean – a lot of these dystopia-esque, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ stories are really more about romance that complex ideas, but Dhonielle Clayton dispenses with all that and really delves into the darker side of the whole thing in a way that had me hooked. I’m not a big series reader either, but I can’t wait for the sequel to this.

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  4. This sounds like a typical YA plot, what with all the beauty vs ugliness, and captivity, and the noble people, but it still sounds relevant 🙂 I’m glad you liked it. I don’t think I’ll be reading it cause I don’t go in much for YA, but it was nice to hear that it did not disappoint! I always wonder about hyped books 🙂 and it’s good when they’re hyped for a reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fair enough. You’re right, The Belles definitely delves into well covered ground, but I think that Clayton’s approach is actually pretty unique, and she manages to weave some complex ideas into what, on the surface, does seem like a typical YA plot.

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  5. Love your emotional investment in this hahah The comparison to that moment in The Handmaid’s Tale definitely tells me exactly what you mean (what show by the way). I’ve only seen praise for this book and I’m glad to hear that it really delivers on all fronts! Fantastic review, Lydia! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love The Handmaid’s Tale but I’m kind of dreading season 2 (I’m in the UK so we haven’t got it just yet – it’s coming at the end of the month) because of the trauma!

      Thanks so much. I enjoyed this book a lot, and the way the plot went really surprised me, which is quite rare for it’s particular genre!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My biggest fear about season 2 was that season 1 ended exactly where the book ended, leaving season 2 completely fresh and new to absolutely everyone! Who knows where it might go now.

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