Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, 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 Orleans 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 Orleans 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.
About the Author
Dhonielle Clayton is the coauthor of the Tiny Pretty Things series. She grew up in the Washington, DC, suburbs on the Maryland side and spent most of her time under her grandmother's table with a stack of books. A former teacher and middle school librarian, Dhonielle is cofounder of CAKE Literary, a creative development company whipping up decidedly diverse books for a wide array of readers, and COO of the non-profit, We Need Diverse Books. She's got a serious travel bug and loves spending time outside of the USA but makes her home in New York City, where she can most likely be found hunting for the best slice of pizza. You can also find her online at www.dhonielleclayton.com or follow her @brownbookworm.
Read an Excerpt
By Dhonielle Clayton
Freeform BooksCopyright © 2018 Dhonielle Clayton
All rights reserved.
We all turned sixteen today, and for any normal girl that would mean raspberry and lemon macarons and tiny pastel blimps and pink champagne and card games. Maybe even a teacup elephant.
But not for us. Today is our debut. There are only six of us this year.
My fingertips leave fog teardrops on the paper-thin glass walls. The carriage is beautiful and clear and fashioned into a ball. I am a delicate doll poised inside a snow globe. An adoring audience surrounds my carriage, eager to see what I look like, and what I can do.
A net made of my signature pink flowers stretches along the glass curves in order to tell everyone my name — Camellia — and to hide me until I'm revealed to the royal court.
I am the last in line.
My heart races with excited nervousness as we snake through the crowds in the Royal Square for the Beauté Carnaval. The festival happens once every three years. I peer through the tiny spaces between the petals with a pair of eyescopes, and try to soak in my first glances of the world, wanting to fold up each bit and tuck it into the cerise layers of my dress.
It's a wonderland of palace buildings with golden turrets and glittering arches, fountains full of crimson and ivory fish, topiary mazes of clipped trees, shrubs, and bushes in every possible geometric shape. Imperial canals circle the square, holding jeweled boats bright as gemstones and shaped like smiling moons on midnight-blue water. They spill over with passengers eager to watch us. The royal sablier, the columnar hourglass that measures the length of day and night, churns with sand the color of white diamonds.
The sky and its clouds are made of melting cherries and flaming oranges and burnt grapefruit as the sun sinks into the sea. The dying sunlight flashes my own reflection on the glass. My powdered skin makes me look like an overly frosted piece of caramel cake.
I've never seen anything like it before. This is the first time I've visited the imperial island, the first time I've ever left home.
The Orléans archipelago is a string of islands stretching like a rose with a crooked stem out into the warm sea. Most of them are connected by golden bridges or can be reached by lavish river coaches. We came from the very top — the bloom — and we've made a long journey to the heart of the stem to display our talents.
A breeze pushes its way through tiny breathing holes in the glass carriage, carrying with it the scent of the sky. Salty rain, spiced clouds, and a hint of sweetness from the stars. It all feels like a dream that's held on and lingered past the dawn. I never want it to end. I never want to return home. One minute here is richer than a thousand moments there.
The end of the warm months brings change, Maman always said. And my life is bound to transform tonight.
The horses tug us forward, their hooves clip-clopping against the cobblestoned square. Vendors are selling sweets in our honor: small mountains of shaved ice topped with strawberries the color of our lips; intricate little teacakes shaped like our signature flowers; sweet puffs molded like our Belle-buns; colorful strings of sugar pinwheeled around sticks to mirror our traditional waist-sashes and dresses.
A hand thumps my carriage and I catch a sliver of a face. The square is overflowing with bodies. There are so many of them. Hundreds, thousands, maybe millions. Imperial guards push the crowd back to give our procession space to pass. All the people seem beautiful, with skin in various colors, from fresh cream to a drizzle of honey to a square of chocolate; their hair is in blond waves or brunette curls or raven coils; body shapes are petite, round, or somewhere in between. They've all paid to look this way.
The men wear jackets and top hats and cravats in a prism of colors. Some have hair growing on their faces in neat patterns. They stand beside women adorned with jewels and draped in luxurious, pastel-colored dresses made full with crinoline and tulle. Intricate hats cover the ladies' hair; some clutch dainty parasols and oilpaper umbrellas, or cool themselves with patterned fans. From the blimps above, I bet they resemble candies in a box.
I recognize the more popular looks from the stacks of gossip tattlers left in the mail chest a day too long, or from the weekly beauty-scopes Du Barry's daughter Elisabeth sometimes dropped between the velvet cushions of the parlorroom couch. The Orléans Press said strawberry blonde hair and jade eyes are the new windy-season trend. The headlines read:
AWAKEN LOVE ... LOOK IRRESISTIBLE WITH STRAWBERRY AND JADE
FILL YOUR TOILETTE BOX WITH BELLE-APPROVED RHUBARB HAIR POWDER
A COMPLEXION OF LILIES AND BELLE-ROSE LIPS — THIS SEASON'S COLORS OF BEAUTY
The newsies say that's what everyone will want in the coming months.
Coins jingle. Hands wave velvet pouches in the air. The spintria inside creates a tinkling melody. How much does each pouch hold? How many treatments can they afford to purchase? How much are they willing to pay?
I adjust the eyescope lens, zooming in on excited onlookers, noticing how some of their skin tones have faded, like paintings that have faced the sun too long; how their hair is graying at the roots, and age-lines are creasing several brows.
It's a reminder of why I'm here.
I am a Belle.
I control beauty.CHAPTER 2
The carriages stop before the royal pavilion. Embroidered chrysanthemums coil around its peaks. Trumpets sound. Bells chime. I adjust the eyescope lens, and squint to see the king, queen, and their daughter. They remind me of the porcelain dolls my sisters and I used to play with as children. The chipped face of the little king in his purple robe, and the queen with a bent crown pinned into her dark hair, both sitting inside a miniature palace made of cypress wood scraps in the playroom.
They look the same here, though not as worn, of course. The queen glows like a faraway star, her ink-black skin catching the last rays of sunlight; the king's copper beard hits the waist-belt of his robe; their daughter has her golden hair pinned up like a beehive. I used to paint the arms and legs of the princess doll each time the real princess altered her skin color, keeping up to date with the scandal sheets Maman used to smuggle past Du Barry.
The blimp screens sparkle with her picture. Tonight she's snowy white like her father, but with peach-pink freckles expertly dusted across her nose. I want to be the one who makes them all beautiful. I want to be the one the queen chooses. I want the power that comes with being Her Majesty's favorite. And if I can be better than Amber, I will be chosen. The rest of my sisters are good, but deep in my heart, I know it will come down to me and her.
Madame Du Barry speaks into a voice-trumpet. "Your Majesties, Your Highness, ministers, comtes and comtesses, barons and baronesses, ladies and gentlemen of the court, people of Orléans, welcome to our kingdom's most notable tradition, the Beauté Carnaval." Her voice is thick with authority. The noise rattles my carriage. Even though I can't see her, I know she's wearing a hat full of peacock feathers, and she's squeezed her curvy frame into one of her black dresses. Maman told me that Madame Du Barry likes to maintain a large and intimidating figure.
"I am Madame Ana Maria Lange Du Barry, Royal Gardien de la Belle-Rose." She says her official title proudly. The people of Orléans would most likely gasp if they knew we called her "Du Barry" at home.
Applause rumbles. High-pitched whistles echo. The noise vibrates inside my chest. My entire life I've wanted nothing more than to be here, before the kingdom.
"This tradition goes back to the very beginning of our islands, and to the onset of our civilization. For generations my ancestors have had the grand privilege to be guardians of our most treasured jewels." She turns to her left and motions to the previous generation of Belles. All eight of them sit in high-backed chairs, and hold Belle-rosebuds in their hands. Black lace veils mask their faces. The favorite — Ivy — wears a glistening crown on her head. This is the end of their time at court. They will return home once they train us.
As a little girl, I remember how they all had played with us between their lessons with Du Barry. But then one day, the servants packed the older girls' things.
I wanted to hole up inside those steamer trunks and carriage cases, hide within their silk dresses and soft furs and fluffy tulle, to stow away and catch glimpses of the world through a trunk's keyhole. I remember reading about the older Belles in the papers after they left. I have their official Belle-cards tacked to my bedroom wall.
I want to be Ivy. I have always wanted to be her.
You have to be the favorite-just like me, Maman told me before she died. The people of Orléans hate themselves. You must change that. The memory of her words warms me from the inside out as the sting of missing her swells inside my chest. The favorite shows the world what is beautiful. She reminds them of what is essential. I wish she had lived long enough to be here, watching from the stage.
I picture myself living at the palace as the personal Belle of the royal family, being the left hand of the Beauty Minister and helping her draft beauty laws, experiencing the wonders of the Imperial City of Trianon and all its quartiers, swimming in La Mer du Roi, sailing in royal ships, visiting every island, and roaming every town to taste all the world has to offer.
My sisters will be placed at one of five imperial teahouses, or will stay at home to tend to Orleans's newborn citizens.
I will be a vessel for the Goddess of Beauty.
I hold the dream inside my chest like a breath I never want to let out.
"And now, it is my pleasure to present the newest generation of Belles," Du Barry announces.
A shiver of anticipation makes my heart threaten to burst. My hands shake, and I drop the eyescopes.
The crowd cheers. The driver pulls the netted covering of flowers from my carriage.
I'm revealed to the crowd. I grab the fans from my lap. Their latches fall open, exposing the fans' primrose-pink pattern. I cover my face, then flap and twirl them together so they flutter like a butterfly's wings. I toss them above my head and catch them effortlessly. The hours of lessons pay off in this moment. Whistles and shouts rise up from the throng.
I look to the left at my sisters' carriages. We're all lined up like a row of eggs in a carton, moving in time with one another. We exchange smiles. The same blood runs through us: the blood of the stars, the blood of the Goddess of Beauty.
Crimson lanterns float into the air. Against a darkening sky, the thin paper burns big and bright with our names: Edelweiss, Ambrosia, Padma, Valeria, Hana, and Camellia.
Fish jump from nearby fountains, changing from ruby to teal mid-flight, teasing onlookers. Their leaps hold the promise of our powers. The square explodes with cheers. Little girls wave Belle-dolls in the air.
Many men and women are sporting monocles to have a closer look at us. I smile and wave, wanting to impress them, wanting to be good enough to be remembered.
Du Barry presents Valerie first. Her carriage rolls forward.
I close my eyes.
Don't watch them, Maman had said. Don't ever covet their use of the arcana. Envy can grow like a weed inside you. Be the best without trying to be better than the others.
We weren't allowed to discuss our instructions in the weeks leading up to the carnaval, but Amber and I had swapped our dossiers. Her subject needed to be given skin the color of toasted walnuts, hair full of large barrel curls, and a round, angelic face; mine had to have skin the shade of alabaster stone from the Fire Isles, hair so dark it blended into the night, and a mouth so perfect and so red it would be indistinguishable from a rose. We practiced our looks on house servants, perfecting them in solitary chambers under the scrutiny of Du Barry. Practice begets perfection, she'd yelled for hours.
I shift around in the carriage as the demonstrations continue, with Hana following Valerie. My legs fall asleep from having them crossed for so long, and my eyes flutter, fighting my desire to keep them closed. Pained moans cut through the noisy square like silver knives as the little girls endure their transformations. I wince as the cries peak and fall, and the onlookers cheer at their crescendos.
Some of my sisters receive louder reactions than others. Some get oohs and ahhs. The roar deafens me at times.
I love my sisters, especially Amber. She's always been the one I loved the most. We all deserve to be the favorite. We've worked so hard to learn the art of beauty. But I want it so much there's no room inside me for anything else.
My eyes feel like they've been closed for an eternity before my carriage trudges forward again. Imperial attendants approach, and their gold uniform buttons catch the lantern light. They arrange themselves at four corners around me, unlatch the hitches, grip the levers jutting from the sides of my glass ball, and lift me off the wheeled bottom like I'm only a soap bubble. Thin and weightless.
I lock my legs in place and focus on my balance. The men march me to the center platform. I try not to be nervous. Du Barry recreated this entire set inside our home, complete with the gold cylinder where my platform will eventually come to rest. I've been preparing for this day since my thirteenth birthday; all of the lessons, the lectures, the practice. I know exactly what I'm supposed to do. It's been rehearsed, yet I can't stop my fingers from trembling and my body from quivering like there's a tiny landquake inside my glass ball.
I whisper to myself: "I will have the best showcase. I will receive the loudest applause. I'll be named the favorite, just like Maman. I will get to live at court. I will get to see the world. I won't make any mistakes. I'll make people beautiful." I say it over and over again like a prayer until the rhythm of the words erases my fear.
The men turn a lever. Gears clink and clang and wheeze. The platform under me rises just above the crowd. Plush royal boxes sit on stilts high above. People lean out of them with eyescopes and spyglasses pressed to their faces, and ear-trumpets jutting out like elephants' trunks. Faces look up in wonder and anticipation like I'm a star caught in a vase, ready to explode.
The platform stops. I turn a tiny lever on the carriage floor. The glass ceiling above me cracks open like an egg. The night's warm air skates over my skin like soft fingers, and it tastes even sweeter up here. If I could bottle the tiny winds, they'd turn to sugar dust.
The stars twinkle. I feel close enough to grab one and stow it away in my beauty caisse.
The square grows so quiet, and the sounds of the ocean swell. The people of Orléans gaze up at me, the last Belle to demonstrate her talents. Du Barry didn't prepare me for what it's like to be stared at. There are so many pairs of eyes, all different shapes and colors. My heart leaps.
Du Barry winks at me, then taps her full lips — a reminder to smile. The crowd believes I was born knowing how to make them beautiful. They don't know how hard I've worked to perfect the traditions and master the arcana. They don't know how hard I've struggled to learn all the rules.
"Now, it is my pleasure to present our final Belle, Camellia Beauregard!"
She fills the syllables of my name with pride, triumph, and magic. I try to hold onto that, and use it to combat my worries.
Light shines everywhere: the lanterns and blimp screens and sky candles and a bright rising moon. I can almost taste it, soft and bubbly and sweet, like pink champagne on the tip of my tongue.
I face a semicircle of smaller platforms. Three to the left and two to the right. Seven-year-old girls stand on them like jewels on velvet cushions. They're as different from one another as pearls and rubies and emeralds, showing how uniquely we can use our arcana to beautify.
I know my sisters' work: Padma's subject has limbs the rich color of honey bread; Edel shaved her girl's head close to the scalp; the eyes of Valerie's subject twinkle like amethyst stars; Hana's girl has the body of a dancer, long legs and arms and a slender neck; Amber's subject has a cheery round face just like her own.
The other Belles have created tiny masterpieces.
It's my turn to transform a girl.
The king and queen nod at Du Barry. She waves her hand in the air, signaling for me to get ready.
I glance up to the heavens for strength and courage. Belles are the descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, blessed with the arcana to enhance the world and rescue the people of Orléans. Blimps crisscross above me and block the stars with their plump forms and silhouette banners.
Excerpted from The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. Copyright © 2018 Dhonielle Clayton. Excerpted by permission of Freeform Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I’ve got to hand it to THE BELLES: there is nothing I like more than pretty pink flowery books with darkness and stabbing and political intrigue going on inside, amid descriptions of lavish desserts and colorful makeup. I like juxtaposition, okay? It’s weird and interesting and has a nice aesthetic. To say I was excited for this one would be an understatement. I’ve been wanting to read this one for so long that I nearly screamed when it showed up on my doorstep. I hope that illustrates just how excited I was, and how hopeful I started reading. Now, did it meet my expectations? I honestly don’t know how to answer that. Because what I expected to receive going into this was completely different than i actually did. Is that a bad thing? Nope. I’m not sure is good, though, either. Let it be known that I am swinging wildly between a 3 Star and 4 star rating right now. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but I’ll give it a shot. I think I’m going to split this review into the goods and bads, for organizational purposes. Yeah, we’ll do that. Lists for the win. L I K E S •THE BELLES has a magnetic, addictive quality to it, the sense of nearby danger lurking at every turn, an evil plot unfolding in the background, and because of this, I found it is frankly impossible to put down. Now. Many take the above statement as a compliment, but it isn’t always. A book doesn’t need to be addictive to be enjoyable. Cliffhanger-ending chapters are, for example, more annoying than anything. And while THE BELLES did not have chapters ending in cliffhangers, per se, it did have the sense that Dhonielle Clayton was holding something from the reader - and if you’d only continue, you’d find out. •The political intrigue was delightfully tense and mysterious and gripping. I love stories set at court. I love the whole look-behind-your-back-and-trust-no-one atmosphere. I love it. And this book had plenty. It reminded me a bit of my beloved THE WINNER’S CRIME by Marie Rutkoski (who blurbed this book! And this was tooootally not the reason I was excited to read this one. Tooootally not.) •The world-building is thoroughly constructed and integrated, and the author surely isn’t shy with the descriptions. The streets. The palace. The newspapers, the celebrities, the customs. OH. And I love it when books describe food. I LOVE IT. Describe aaaaall the desserts, please. I’m totally here for this. •Camilla is a fabulous lead. She’s a Belle, she’s professionally trained, she’s highly ambitious, and she’s competitive as hell. AND I LOVE HER FOR IT. I particularly loved her relationship with her sisters, and the exploration of the idea that no matter how much you love your friends, you’re lot going to be happy to watch them get something you wanted. Good sportsmanship is a legend. Fight for what you want. And guys? There are those who like to pretend otherwise, but you can’t compete cordially with friends, same as you can’t do business with friends. Winner take all, every man for himself, and all that. And Camilla got that. So did Amber. And this was highly realistic, and relatable, and conveyed so effortlessly. I’m impressed. D I S L I K E S •The writing, at times, sank dangerously close to purple prose territory at times. Look, I get it (Kind of). The author likes to describe. She does. I see that. I even LIKE that ... when it’s controlled. What I don’t like is an out-of-control, full-fledged description-fest. I did not sign up for that. I’m pretty sure many
Our main character is Camille, a Belle, who can manipulate the body and personality of others. And in this world called Orléans, people are gray as a default; the Belles put give them "beauty" and changes how they look from their original self and gives them color. This was a gorgeous and lyrical book that was enthralling and captivating. This world was scary and twisted— a reflection of our own society and the dream of the "ideal beauty." The book starts off slow and builds the mysterious world of Orléans— but after the first hundred pages or so, the world is fast-paced and the stakes are high. I loved so many of our three-dimensional characters and their relationships with Camellia. The bodyguard is professional but soft-hearted. Ambrosia's sister-like relationship with Camellia is loving, but it can change within a heartbeat from competition. This book has so many important messages about beauty, feminism, and competition. Trigger and content warnings for sexual assault, torture, animal cruelty, misgendering of a trans character, and the use of the "bury your gays" trope.
I absolutely loved this book! The author is so skilled at bringing this luscious world to life. I immediately started rooting for the protagonist and the love interest in this book was so good. Despite having a pretty large cast of secondary/side characters, she was able to make them all stand out from one another and give them all distinct personalities that came across clearly. Her writing was clean and descriptive and I found myself immersed in the story rather than distracted by the wording, which has happened to me before with other writers who get too flowery in their descriptions. I also really appreciated the fantasy/magical element, which I haven’t seen before. It was new and fresh and a great way to trigger the much needed discussion of beauty standards in our culture. It was a great read! I absolutely loved this book! The author is so skilled at bringing this luscious world to life. I immediately started rooting for the protagonist and the love interest in this book was so good. Despite having a pretty large cast of secondary/side characters, she was able to make them all stand out from one another and give them all distinct personalities that came across clearly. Her writing was clean and descriptive and I found myself immersed in the story rather than distracted by the wording, which has happened to me before with other writers who get too flowery in their descriptions. I also really appreciated the fantasy/magical element, which I haven’t seen before. It was new and fresh and a great way to trigger the much needed discussion of beauty standards in our culture. It was a great read!
So I really liked this book, but I don’t think I liked it as much as I expected too. I think the problem boils down to the fact that I read too many GOOD reviews for it before I started which brought my expectations way up. I think it might be better to go into this book knowing/expecting less. So maybe if you want to read this book, don’t read my review. That being said, I did really like this book. The world was great. It was really really cool to see a fantasy world inspired by New Orleans. From beignets to bayous and all the Cajun-French names taken straight from New Orleans and the surrounding areas, it felt a lot like home. I could tell that the author is not actually from this area (Metairie is not a glamorous place), but I love this area so I loved seeing it transformed into this really cool fantasy version. Although it was little slow to start, focusing mainly on world-building and seemingly innocent beauty treatments and character interactions, there’s an underlying sinisterness/feeling of dread/feeling that something is wrong. It was a really good vibe and it’s definitely a positive point. But it foes brings me to my biggest complaint, which may border on spoiler-ish. I was kind of expecting more big reveals than there were and more omg moments and more secrets. I think based on reviews I went in expecting some big mystery and big surprising reveal about what the Belles are and where they come from, and didn’t get that. On further reflection, letting a day go by before writing this review, there IS more going on than what appears on the surface and what the Belles are told their whole childhood, and most of it WAS quite terrible and sinister, but to me none of it was surprising and if it was meant to be surprising then it was somewhat predictable. The Belles and the Kingdom are what they appear to be. But the inner workings of the court are not, and people who profess to be good are not. So don’t go in expecting mystery in the aspect that I did, just expect everything to be more sinister than it appears. One more small complaint is that everything was kind of vague, it never explains what the arcana are that give the Belles their power. Is it little creatures? Just a special power? It’s talked about from the beginning like we should already understand. A little two sentence explanation would have completely eliminated this complaint which I kept expecting to get but never did. So. All that complaining aside I really DID like this book. It was super creative and really well-written and a great storyline. Although it was completely different, I’d recommend it to fans of The Selection and Uglies. I’m actually really looking forward the the sequel. Although The Everlasting Rose is not getting as good of reviews as this one, I’m hoping my lower expectations actually turn into a better end result. Hopefully it answers some questions I was left with at the end of this book. The cliffhanger really set it up to be good, and now that I know it’s not going in the direction I thought, I’m fully embracing the direction it IS going.
“No one is a prisoner. Even you have the power to make your own choices.” I had no idea what this book was about going in, but I finished it within two hours, and I absolutely loved it! The world building was very well done and everything seemed to work together with the plot and the Belle’s jobs. One thing I adored in this book were the relationships Camille had with her sisters, they all seemed to get along so well and I loved the little balloon messages they sent to each other. The Queen was a really awesome character in this book and it was nice to see a Queen portrayed as not a weak old lady. Overall, I loved this book and I’m so excited for The Everlasting Rose!
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 brilliant! It was an intensely thought provoking story about beauty and morality and the importance of diversity and loving yourself. It was absolutely breathtaking! I finished this gem in one sitting! I loved it! I loved the gorgeous writing. I loved the history behind the world and The Belles. I loved the messages portrayed in the story, and I LOVED Camellia! Camellia made the book! She was strong, brave, and kind at heart. She took on a powerful journey of self discovery, and she represented inner beauty and fierceness all the while! She was a breath of fresh air in a world obsessed with outer beauty. The Belles held such an important message about learning to love yourself and to think of yourself as beautiful no matter what. It really highlighted issues that have always been around regarding the pressure we put on ourselves, and others, to feel beautiful. It highlighted issues of racism and prejudice and the little green monster called jealousy. It was incredibly powerful! I really loved everything about this one! The writing was beautiful. The setting was so vividly colorful, and the atmosphere was intense. The idea of the arcana and The Belles and their origins was genius, and the depth of the characters and messages behind the story was emotional! The Belles was deep, dark, and delicious! 4.5 stars!
UM, THIS IS AMAZING, AND I CANNOT DEAL. Perhaps my favorite book of 2018??? Basically my brain is just repeating, "thiswasgreatthiswasgreatthiswasgreatthiswasgreatthiswasgreatthiswasgreat" on repeat, and like help, because I think this broke me? I can't even begin to explain this book, and I'm not going to even try. I went into this book not knowing much, and honestly, I highly recommend it. I never quite knew where this was going, and once you get the overall concept, you're drawn into a world full of intrigue, opulence, wealth, power, and glory. It has all the makings of a French court drama piece filled with whimsy, magic, and more beauty than you know what to do with. That is all I shall tell, xoxo Non-Book Gossip Gal since a) I will forever fail to capture any beauty this book gave off and b) I really think going in and immersing yourself is the way to go. And immerse yourself, you certainly do. Since I went in blind and was listening to it as an audiobook, I was a bit worried that it wasn't going to translate well. I mean, this girl can barely handle a complex fantasy world in print let alone audiobook??? But Clayton did it effortlessly. She created a world that was easy to understand and new pieces were pulled out as moments happened and it wasn't just like, "Oh yeah, I have an extra power now BY THE RANDOM WAY" - it actually felt natural and right and organic to the storytelling. THIS WORLD IS JUST SO SO EASY TO UNDERSTAND, and the pacing with it was brilliantttttttttttttttt. Also, like, Clayton's writing and world were wholly captivating. This story honestly felt like one of those fancy desserts that you watch on the Great British Baking Show where you're like omg, that is gorgeous and stunning and I want to eat it even though you hate like ALL of the ingriendents and don't even know what cardamom is but like IT IS LUSH, DECADENT, AND OPULENT AND YOU JUST WANT TO DIVE INTO A CREME BRULEE TART PLEASE AND THANK YOU. I don't even know how Clayton came up with all of this, but everything was so intriguing but not so outlandish it didn't make sense AND not too ordinary that it was like other things I've read. The characters were wholly intriguing as well. They have so many facets to each other. I adore Camellia, and she is a brilliant narrator. I didn't always agree with her choices, but she is true to herself and what her heart says. She kicks sooooooooo much butt, and I absolutely loved being in her head. All of the other characters were just so interesting and brought such a lively cast to this already enchanting story. I did love me some Remy and his quiet sass. And like, there are so many epic females in this and the sisterhood is amazing and like, omg, I can't. I just love me some sisterhood stories, and Clayton showcased empowered females being them empowered selves. And yes, the crown is only passed down to females in this world, and like, YES PRETTY PLEASE. And the PLOT. LIKE, EXCUSE ME, PLOT, HOW DARE YOU GIVE ME SO MANY TWISTS AND TURNS WHEN I WAS JUST HERE FOR THE PRETTY WORDS AND FUN. Ugh, I don't know what to do with myself now. And the romance? Okay, I wasn't always vibing the clear romance, because I was mostly shipping my quiet ship, which I built intensely in my head so the full romance couldn't properly shine? But I did enjoy it nonetheless. TO CONCLUDE: read read read read read readddddddddddddddddddddddd. This book is brilliant, and my full on fangirling did not do it justice at alllllllllll. 5 crowns
The very best thing about The Belles is that it screams off the page for young readers everywhere that beauty is diverse. Camellia and her five Belle sisters, considered to be the ideals of beauty in their world, come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Each one is unique and different, and each one is upheld as equally beautiful. The rest of the people of Orléans, all striving to be as beautiful as possible, are also described as choosing all kinds of physical traits. At the same time that it upholds diverse beauty, The Belles shines a light on toxic beauty standards. Orléans is beauty culture taken to the extreme: appearance is an obsession and a competition in this world, and the people put themselves through excruciating treatments because they're afraid that being themselves isn't good enough. And in this world of glorified external beauty, there are a lot of twisted people whose appearances are masking seriously lacking character. It's not just the people of Orléans who are beautiful. Dhonielle Clayton's imagery is effortless, and from the moment the story began, I felt as wide-eyed and captivated by the world as Camille was seeing it all for the first time. Clayton does a fabulous job painting the magnificent opulence of the world of Orléans and the Belles. But for me, reading this book was like walking through a cloud of raspberry perfume. At first it was delicious, exciting, inviting--but after endless descriptions of dresses and jewels, marble and flowers, people eating pastries (so many pastries!) and macarons? I got overwhelmed, to the point where I barely processed the scenery anymore. The world building of The Belles was what drew me in to request the book originally. Clayton works with a fascinating and incredibly unique premise, and learning the hows and whys of Orléans was great. I would have liked a lot more detail than what we got, though. By the end of the book, I still had a lot of questions about some of the basic tenets of the world, like what exactly happened to the Gris who didn't get beauty treatments (it was made to sound very ominous, but all the characters in the book had a very blasé attitude about reverting to their natural state, aside from the *not being pretty* part?). Also, where there are lavish palaces and merchant houses that bring in fortunes on luxuries like spices and jewels, there's major economic disparity somewhere else. Clearly there are people somewhere in the world who go without, but how they factor in is very unclear. Couple that with talk of colonies and other islands and a War Ministry, all of which are footnotes in passing--are there other countries in this world? What relationship do they have to Orléans? I was pretty confused. From the way the book ended, I think Clayton is going to address some of my many questions in the sequel, but I had a hard time getting comfortable in this book without really knowing what was going on.
I had a hard time thinking exactly what to say about The Belles. There were definitely things I liked about it. The prose is lush and the world building is thorough; you really get a sense of the bewildering, extravagant society in which the characters live. I did appreciate the way 'beauty' wasn't defined by hard and fast rules, so that there were different fashions, and the inability of the Belles to alter their own appearances was a nice touch. Also there was the food. (Seriously, read this book if you really love dessert.) On the other hand, people in this society suffer so much to keep themselves looking as gorgeous as possible, and it didn't feel like any of them thought very much about how horrible this fixation on beauty could be. I would have liked to see more exploration of that, but hopefully the sequel will address it.
Dhonielle Clayton has produced a beautiful story about an ugly truth. The use of colors in her writing is enthralling and I enjoyed reading about this interesting world. The truth is that beauty comes at a cost, and it is hard to tell sometimes if we really know what it means to pay it in full. Camellia is a character that is relatable in a wonderful way. She is strong and unique, even amongst her sisters, yet her indecision about the challenges she is issued proves that she is only human, if you can consider Belles humans. Everything about this story, from her relationship with her sisters to her feelings about her work and her Maman are etched into your mind and you feel her confusion and her love for everybody around her. Camellia truly tries to see the beauty in everybody, no matter their natural shapes, which is something that other people could truly strive to do. This book should be read by those of both sexes so that men can see the damage they have the power to inflict upon the women in their lives. Women should read it to see the high cost of beauty and why it might not be wise to pursue it doggedly. I'd say that teens and young adults should read this book, too, so that they might learn the hard truths more easily. It is an engaging read, and I look forward to the sequel.
I really, really enjoyed this book. While it started off a bit slow for me it sure picked up ¼ through the book and from there on it is pretty fast paced. I absolutely love the world Dhonielle Clayton created, it was magic and real. I really wouldn’t mind to see it on the screen someday. Everything was well described but not overdone. If you think this book is all about beauty and vanity, you are wrong there is so much more that is taking place. I don’t want to give anything away and it really dosent if I say to be a faviorte is not a necessarily good thing as Camille things in the beginning. She learns quickly that being a favorite may just mean a bigger and better golden cage. There are a lot of secrets and lies to be uncovered and Camille being a bit of rule breaker and rebel means to find out what all it hidden behind the nice golden and royal façade. This book is full of surprises and has some nice plot twists that I did not see coming. Also be warned it does end with a cliffhanger. I really enjoyed Camille for the most part of the book, she did have some annoying parts but she learned quickly and I ended up really liking her. Another favorite for me was Remy and I wish we could have had more of him. Overall, this was a fast paced, full with some action, betrayal and many twists and turns read that I really enjoyed. I rate it 4 ½ ★ because it was a bit slow in the beginning for me but otherwise a great read with an awesome world.
I loved this book and it was, to me, totally deserved all of the hype that it got up to its release. I would also like to thank BookishFirst for sending me a copy to review. The first thing that you notice when you start reading The Belles is how lavish the world is. Fashion is everything in Orleans so of course, Clayton highlights this extravagantly. But it is not just the fashion that is so beautifully talked about but the carriages, the palace, the people. When I was reading it I compared it to eating entire Parisian bakery, you are a bit sick to your stomach but you keep eating because it is so good. To explain, the world is lavish, to the point of giving me a headache, similarly to the lavish styling of Monstress, but I keep reading because I just had to know more. And this was probably one of my favorite parts of this book. Clayton focused heavily on the little details, like the adorable post balloons and the teacups animals, of Camellia's world that it was not hard to have images of the world in my head. Also when this becomes a movie, I just know that it will, I hope that these details are not ignored because they are what makes Orleans, Orleans. And as a little side note, I totally want this movie to be done like Marie Antonitee (2006) as the story is inspired by that era of France as well as I think the pastel candy colors just work so well with this story. The characters in the book are as lavish as the world is. First there is the leading lady Camellia and her sisters. I love their bond. Even though they are all competing to be the favorite they don't hate each other for it. They are very supportive of one another and all want the best for each other. Then there are the royal family, which is so good because the family dynamics and how Clayton wrote about the youngest daughter, Sophia, was just exquisite. I am going to go into more detail about them at the end of this review because I have a bone to pick with the Queen and there are lots of spoilers but I editted out the one about the end of the book. For the overall plot of the novel, it moves at nice pace once you figure out how the world works. There were some slow points after the beginng but I do not feel that Clayton added anything in the novel that I felt was out of place or not important. I did figure out the big plot twist in the end which I don't think was that hard but how it fits in with the rest of the book totally works. It also ends on this cliffhanger, where I was like wait, what is happening! but it is the first book in the series so it is acceptable. But there was one thing that I did not expect for this book and that is how dark it is. Not just from the terror that the antagonist produces but from the beauty treatments that some of these people want that can kill them or that plot twists at the end about the Belles (that is one thing that I am not going to spoil for you should experience them on your own). Spoilers below! You have been warned! This is for my bone to pick with the Queen. Okay so my bone to pick with the Queen. In the book, the antagonist, Sophia, is the psychopath. She has done a variety of horrible acts such as forcing a Belle to turn her teacup alligator into a dragon because she got an alligator instead of a dragon for her birthday and then to make matters worse she tries to make it fly by throwing it off her balcony. Then there is the time that she made Amber turn one of her friend's skin invisible and another time when
NOT WHAT I WAS EXPECTING I thought the book was okay. I expected it to be magical, glamorous, and ritzy but it's definitely more than that (of course). But when I think about it in a critical way, this almost feels like a dystopian. How would you feel if there are certain individuals who had the power to control beauty? Everyone wants to be beautiful of course but at what price? The main character wanted to be a favorite of those who had power over beauty but then realizes that everything is not what it seems (typical YA). Beautiful descriptions, lush writing, uhm but I'm not so sure I like the concept of the story (in general). However, I liked the idea of this fictional New Orleans, it's definitely a breath of fresh air. Would recommend this to teens and those who want to venture into YA literature their first time.
THE BELLES is far more different than one would expect it to be. I was thinking court intrigue and romance and lots of pastries and dresses. But, wow, talk about misleading! There are so many layers to this story and the best part about THE BELLES was experiencing each new part told through the gorgeous prose. Clayton clearly excels at painting vivid pictures through her words and while the setting of Orléans is fictional, it felt like I was there at times! With a super unique world and an interesting cast of characters, I can expect many readers to be enchanted as I was with THE BELLES. However, my one complaint would be the rather violent death of the only lesbian character. I wish there was a warning for that because reaching that scene made me feel a bit queasy.
I absolutely LOVED this novel! It was one of my most anticipated releases of this year and it did not at all disappoint. Clayton's writing style was one-of-a-kind and I am so excited to continue the series purely for that reason. However, I did find that the story look a little while to get very interesting. However, once it did, I could not put it down! I was entranced by the world and characters developed by the author and was quite inspired by the characters' perseverance. However, please be aware that there is a sexual assault trigger. Also, there is fat shaming, LGBTQ+ negative depictions, and negative beauty standards-- although this seems to be common within novels like this. Overall, though, this was still a solid 4-star read.
This was a fascinating and horrifying book all at the same time. It really makes you consider what makes a person beautiful and question why we let magazines, movies and all other forms of media tell us what beauty should look like and why we aren’t enough by thier standards. Camille was a strong character who always tried to stand up for what was right. She lost her way a few times but managed to find her fighting spirit once more. I HATE Sophia but that is exactly what the author intended. By the end, you keep wishing something bad will happen to her. The world building and descriptions of everything in the story were phenomenal. I would definately recommend this book! I did receive an eARC from Netgalley and the publisher but I also bought my own copy while at BookCon in June. All opinions are my own.
The world of THE BELLES is like a wonderful layered dessert: sweet, full of depth, and with clever little embellishments that round the whole thing out. The society created feels complete, and charming, with a vicious twist. This book does a wonderful job of deconstructing the norms of how society thinks of beauty. It allows the reader to see just how twisted the process of changing a person's appearance is--complete with some truly gruesome descriptions that don't hide the horror of the way the magic works. However, I didn't always connect with the story. Camellia is necessarily a bit naive, and I felt like I was always many steps ahead of her in terms of seeing just how treacherous the society was. The first half of the book's plot felt like it was driven primarily by Camellia being summoned to different events, and being directed by others. While this holds true with the setting of the book, it made the story feel episodic, and Camellia a bit passive. I am sure many younger readers on the YA spectrum will enjoy this book--and there's plenty to love--but I felt that the story fell short of the worldbuilding. I hope the sequel has more room to grow, and more room for Camellia to direct her own story.
This story was a lot of fun. If you want a YA book set in a world of glitz, glamour, and palace intrigue, then this book is for you. It's a story where you love the main character (even if she gets a bit whiny sometimes), and want to punch the villain in the face. My only issue was some of the repetitiveness of certain aspects: every animal was a teacup something (teacup lion, teacup dragon, teacup monkey, etc.) and almost every product in the kingdom had the word Belle in front of it. The world building is excellent and I loved watching the details unfold, especially concerning the origins of the Belles and their secrets. And there are still so many questions not yet answered! I also feel like any upcoming books in the series will have a lot to cover: a tyrant princess, Belle rights, and changing the society's view of beauty. I am really looking forward to the next installment and I highly recommend this book!
Dying for the second one. Dhonielle's writing is the most lavish thing I've ever read. I could see and smell and taste every instant of it, and this world is so complicated and exciting.
The Belles was not what I expected, despite the description there is more and less to the book than the summary might lead you to believe. I was led to believe that even though this was a society that valued beauty above all else, our main character would subvert that and along the way attempt to change the status quo. I didn't feel that the idea of beauty was bucked at all in this book and I'm not sure if it was meant to be. It was nice to see that one style, colour, or physique was not deemed most beautiful, as the trends shifted with the wind. I loved the idea that anything and anyone can be beautiful, but it wasn't all-inclusive. There was still the idea that certain things were beautiful and others were not. That was the one let-down. The book wholeheartedly embraced beauty which weakened the impact of the story in my opinion. Camellia, our main character, wants to become the favourite Belle more than anything (as her mother was before her). Both she and her sisters have been trained their whole lives for their roles as Belles, girls with abilities who can make Orléans beautiful. I really liked that she was not docile and had trouble listening to the customer because she had her own ideas. She could be headstrong and although she made many ill-fated choices, I found her to be a generally likable character. I felt that she had a decent amount of character development, but the rest of her sisters did not fair as well. Most of them were interchangeable and in desperate need of depth. I cannot wait to see how they are fleshed out in future books. The writing was what shone in this novel, as the author has such a beautiful and vivid way of writing. The vibrant writing both clashed and melded with the darker subplot of the book. It lent additional horror to some of the crueler acts and beauty to the moments that needed them. Even the antagonist was woven into this story of beauty and cruelty through twining words and twisted deeds. As this is a fantasy world, there was a lot of world building that needed to be done and a significant portion of that was given to the reader from the start. That might make it challenging for some to progress into the book as it starts off a little slowly and is a tad bit dense. It does pick up and becomes very enjoyable by the time we find ourselves in the palace. By the end, I was invested in the plot and cannot wait to see where the author takes us in the future.
Not since Scott Westerfield's UGLIES series have I seen such a deftly-handled novel of beauty = worth. The story is unbelievably timely and culturally relevant, and I'm very engaged with the premise of "How far would you go for ___". I've been seeing a lot of buzz about this novel on Twitter. A big part of that is from the diverse writers movement and the YA book community, which is so strong, so passionate, so vocal. I AM SO STOKED to see a black girl on the cover. Walk into a bookstore and you tend to see dozens of novels with aesthetic, white, skinny girls in beautiful clothing on YA covers. I'm so proud of the publisher, design team, and everyone involved for showcasing the beauty of the author's main character RIGHT THERE ON THE COVER. I AM LIVING FOR THIS. As a WOC (woman of color), this means a lot. And there's a ton of sexuality representation in this novel as well, and I like that it was accepted as a matter of course and not as an issue in and of itself. The author's prose is crisp, lush, and evocative. I love this revamped New Orleans, so reminiscent of the 2006 Marie Antoinette movie. From the first page, the first PARAGRAPH, we are dripping in lavish splendor and decadent imagery. Also, yummy food. Every sentence is crafted to further draw you into the world of The Belles, and despite the confectionary delight of the prose, this story is definitely not all sugar! There is a dark, bitter center on the inside of this candy... The vibe is sort of fairytale-like, which I am 100% here for. Down to the toxic value placed on beauty and the statement of women being used as commodities, the book really underlines the concept of beauty as skin deep (plot twist: to the hedonistic royals and wealthy, it definitely isn't even a question). It really brought to mind the competitive and cutthroat nature of Snow White's stepmother and her desire to be the fairest in all the land. The magic and science of this society seemed to go hand in hand, though I would have loved to see a little more on the class system and history of the illness—I'm a sucker for societal origin stories! A timely, relevant, and absolutely evocative look at where we as society place our values, and a good examination of the value placed on women—and by women—to look beautiful...regardless of the cost.
The Belles came out in February, and a friend and I bought it...in February. But, since we promised each other we would buddy read it together and my friend had been busy binge reading The Red Queen series, it was put on hold...until now. Guys, don’t let the cover fool you. Sure, it’s pretty and pink (as are the GORGEOUS maps inside *heart eyes*), and the flower blossoms are breathtaking. But underneath the cover, inside the pages of The Belles, lies a plot that is much darker than I imagined—and I loved every second of it. For a few nights, my texts to my friend were pretty much “OMG” and “WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!” and other variations to that effect. In fact, when we finished the last page (and properly freaked out), I jokingly told her my review was probably going to be: AHHHHHHHHHH OMGGGGGGGG Read itttttttt Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh And while that is still my internal monologue after all the plot twists and that ending, here’s a bit more than semi-nonsense freak-outs. (But, first, seriously. Read this book.) Camellia has been raised beside her sisters and groomed to be Belles, a select group of girls who control beauty in a cursed world. While Camellia strives to become just like her mother before her, her actions don’t always follow the conventional rules. As she tries to find her place in her new world, Camellia begins to uncover hidden truths and more secrets than she ever thought. I enjoyed watching her character develop, and I especially loved seeing her interactions with her sisters. (Give me all the scenes with Edel in particular. Girl, the sass!!!). I could say pages and pages on Princess Sophia’s character; that girl takes it to a whole new level. Reading this book was like biting into a candy-coated apple and discovering it was actually a chocolate-covered onion: on the surface, this world is beautiful and presents such striking concepts, like the post balloons and the teacup animals (BTW: how can I get one of those? I want a teacup wolf, like, yesterday), but with each stunning detail, more and more ugliness in the cities is revealed. It’s fantastic, it’s imaginative, and it’s compelling, and it’s an incredibly smart fictional critique on beauty standards. I know this book was released just a few months ago, but I’m already eagerly anticipating the next book in this sequel. I have so many questions (with more to come, no doubt) and I can’t wait to further explore the world Dhonielle Clayton has created.
The Belles is a BEAUTIFUL, rule-bending book that will leave you gasping for more, all while being astounded by Clayton’s writing and the powerful message this book holds. Let’s break it down: 1. The world was INSANE. Set in the Kingdom of New Orleans, where all people except The Belles are born with grey skin, straw hair and blood red eyes, this book captures, at it’s very essence, everybody’s need to be beautiful. Belles can change the inward manner and outward appearance of anybody using their Arcana, for a prince of course, and you’re truly shown the lengths people will go to get to what they want to look like. 2. This book begins when a new generation of Belles presents themselves to court, their relationship with each other and their gifts and most of all, the insanity and politics surrounding beauty. 3. I REALLY liked a lot of the characters in the book, and I wished we saw more of others, but for some reason, I didn’t fall in love. I expected to be blown away like I was with Tiny Pretty Things, the last Dhonielle Clayton book I read, but that final element was just missing. 4. I guess that (^) has something to do with THE SHEER AMOUNT OF QUESTIONS I HAD including: A) What is the birth process of a Belle like? WHAT DOES COMING FROM ROSES MEAN? B) How does the Arcana and “cutting and shaping with a knife” and “inserting metal rods” really work when a Belle is altering someone’s appearance? It was all so vague and I was left a little clueless. Also, C) HOW LONG IS A BELLE IN COURT FOR? When does the next generation come? HOW IN THE WORLD DO POST-BALLOONS WORK? What are tea-cup animals? 5. While I did have a lot of questions, I also loved a lot of the characters. I ADORED Remy, especially with his gruff exterior and his heart of gold. He was a softball with his three sisters and I absolutely LOVED him. I also cannot WAIT to see more of him in the next book. 6. I did like all of The Belles, but honestly, I’m so excited for the inevitable character growth that they’ll go through in the next book as they learn to deal with the fact that everything they’ve ever known is gone. They were sort of… plain characters and I didn’t really love or hate any of them. 7. Surprisingly, I LOVED Dhonielle Clayton’s portrayal or Princess Sophia. It was intense, ingenious writing and really showed you the internal madness most woman go through (not to that extent, though) to be the “most beautiful.” Honestly, you guys, THE HYPE IS REAL. This book will not be what you’re expecting it to be, nor is it like anything you’ve ever read before. It is a masterpiece, in every sense of the word, and I can’t wait to see where Clayton takes us in the sequel! 4 stars.
The Belles is an engaging and direct commentary on issues that plague our world, such as power struggles, race, and social constructs of beauty. Dhonielle Clayton faces such intense problems and weaves them into a world where beauty is controlled by the elite and can be purchased and manipulated by those in power. The Belles are a group of women gifted with the power to not only add color to an otherwise gray population, but alter their physical features as well. The price and pain involved are high, but what you look like determines your station in life... right? Camellia is a strong-willed protagonist who wants to be the favorite Belle and perform her duties with the royals and her entourage. As the plot develops, she realizes not everything is as beautiful it seems and Orleans has secrets she that she was never taught through her training to be a Belle. She also has to face egregious abuses of power and determine whether her allegiance lies with her Belle responsibilities or her growing conscience and awareness. The world Clayton has built is enchanting and decadent with its teacup animals, elaborate clothing, and over-the-top physical alterations as women reach for unattainable perfection no matter the costs. I enjoyed the visually inspiring descriptions, court intrigue, the hints at romance (maybe more in book 2?), and the beginning of the journey of the Belles as they learn more and come to terms with the facts that everything they had been taught about the world could have been wrong. I look forward to continuing this series!