The Belles - A Stunning New YA Fantasy by Dhonielle Clayton!

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The Belles

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is an un-put-down-able story of friendship and the price of success, set in a New Orleans inspired world where physical beauty is prized above all – and comes at a cost.

In the city of Orleans, every person is born with gray skin, red eyes, straw-like brittle hair, and “ugly” features. The wealthy receive regular beauty treatments, during which their skin color, hair color, facial features, and body structure are magically (and painfully) altered by Belles, young women born with the ability to change a person’s appearance through their Arcana. These treatments are pricey, but coveted (skin returns to gray after a month or so, requiring constant upkeep).

Camellia Beauregard has spent her whole life training as a Belle alongside a few other girls she considers her sisters. When her generation of Belles goes to present their skills to the kingdom, Camellia has one goal – impress the crowd and be chosen as the “Favorite,” the special Belle who lives in the palace and works with the royal family. However, when she breaks the rules on stage, her best friend Amber is chosen as the Favorite instead – a decision which fractures their friendship. Crushed, Camellia takes her new post working as a Belle at an exclusive tea house instead.

However, it isn’t long before Amber is mysteriously fired from her job and the queen summons Camellia to take her place as Favorite. While Camellia is thrilled that her dreams are coming true, she’s also a bit suspicious as to why Amber is no longer around.

Camellia takes on her new role in the palace, overwhelmed by the prestige, honor, and riches that come with the title. Unfortunately, her new job requires her to work with Princess Sophia – a living nightmare. The princess, known for changing her look as often as possible, is a spoiled bully, using her title to manipulate, abuse, and control her friends and servants. Camellia works to meet the princess’s increasingly troubling demands, while secretly investigating what happened to Amber. However, when the queen privately asks Camellia to complete a task with potentially dangerous consequences, Camellia is faced with an impossible decision – is she willing to sacrifice her life for the good of the kingdom?

I truly loved this book. I was hooked from the very first chapter -- in fact, that's what made me rush to pick this one up; I'd read the first chapter excerpt and needed to keep reading ASAP! The Belles is almost 500 pages, and I read it in two days. While a fantasy world, The Belles explores many topics that are relevant today. What price would you pay for beauty and status? Is beauty worth physical pain? What makes a person beautiful? Who decides what is considered beautiful and what is ugly? How are beauty standards different between women and men? There is also an interesting exploration of the intersections between wealth, beauty, and success.  

One of my favorite parts of this book were the complicated relationships between Camellia and her sister Belles. While they’re competitors who don’t always get along, the girls are fiercely protective of each other. Even though we only see most of the Belles in the first few chapters, their personalities really jumped off the page and I loved reading their interactions.

The world building was really cool. I loved the post balloons and the teacup pets – where can I get one?

Like I said earlier, this book is quite long, and a couple parts did drag a little. For example, in my opinion, some of the descriptions of beauty treatments started to feel a little repetitive. There were also a few character inconsistencies and some world building elements that I wish were better explained. For example, Amber is described as being a prudish, strict rule-follower – and the other Belles sometimes get in fights with her over it; however, Camellia regularly reminisces about her memories growing up with Amber, almost all of which involved breaking the rules, so I was a little confused about Amber as a character. Likewise, it is a fact of the book that beauty treatments are extremely expensive, yet we never see any gray people walking around; so can everyone afford regular treatments? Similarly, the double standards between male and female beauty are touched upon, and we almost exclusively see women as the characters receiving the beauty treatments; yet we don’t see any men whose skin has gone gray due to lack of treatment, implying that they, too, must receive the same amount of treatment. However, these are just nitpicky things, and they did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

This was a really fun, fast read that I really enjoyed! I loved Remy and hope we see more of him in future books. The New Orleans inspired setting was really cool, and I liked the morality questions posed in the text. Is it weird to say I loved how devious Sophia was? Clayton is an extremely talented writer and I loved her writing style -- everything was described in a way that felt so magical. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

Trigger warnings: on-page attempted sexual assault, fat shaming, upsetting description of past animal abuse, and *SPOILER* traumatic death of a character in a f/f relationship 

5.0 / 5.0