I am obsessed with Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, and I know the world will be, too.
A quick summary: Set in Orléans (a city very much French regency meets old-school New Orleans), beauty is a limited commodity. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, a class of magical women who can sculpt and perfect the mood and appearance of those around her. As trendsetters and practitioners, Belles have incredible power to shape the tastes of the day for the upper classes.
Only one Belle will be stationed at the palace, however. The book opens on a contest to judge the abilities of the Belles. Not all is well in Orléans, however. At the palace, a princess is asleep, a queen is sick, and the youngest princess seems, at best, a little flaky. Tricky politics and court uproar threaten to not only test Camellia’s moral mettle, but also her safety. In the aftermath of the Belle placements, Camellia and her sisters discover danger, deception, and more about the nature of Belles themselves.
If you’ve read Clayton’s Tiny Pretty Things or Shiny Broken Pieces (a collaboration between her and Sona Charaipotra), you know that Clayton knows how to weave a compelling, dramatic story. I found the characters in The Belles even more interesting. Cut free from the bounds of realism, Clayton’s magical realm still feels real. The idea of beauty magic and beauty as a commodity feels so applicable, especially to a YA audience– or to women in general. The wish to change ourselves is one of the most common, and Clayton doesn’t preach on body image or romanticize the painful process of beauty changes. The limits placed on magic in a world often set how real they feel to the reader, and Clayton’s execution of that magic and setting of its limitations is clear.
This book has all of the makings of a good series. Strong set up of internal and external complications, a few hints at romantic side plots, and funny and interesting secondary characters (loved the sister relationships, especially). I finished this book, sighed, and wished that the next was already out.
Add this one to your to-read list.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Disney/Hyperion)
Release date: February 20, 2018