Book Review

The Belles

The Belles

  • Author: Dhonielle Clayton
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: February 6, 2018
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Series: The Belles #1

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: grief, blood, vomit, sexual assault, bullying

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 faces and 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.

This gorgeous cover caught my eye so long ago, and I’ve been waffling on picking it up from the library, and I’m so glad that I finally did! It really brought up questions about the value of beauty, and how far people are willing to go to get it. 

We’re introduced to Camellia, one of the six Belles being debuted this year. The girls are all raised as sisters, and have developed close bonds despite being in competition against each other to become the Queen’s favorite Belle. I loved the relationships between the sisters—they’re all so different, both in looks and personality, and they’re depicted as having sibling relationships that feel so real. They don’t always see eye to eye, but they always seem to fall back on the support of each other no matter what.

“We’re not supposed to show favoritism with one another. We’re all sisters. We’re all supposed to be equally close. But I’ve always loved Amber a little more than the others. And she, me.”

The world of Orléans is so strongly reminiscent of pre-revolution France, and the times of Marie Antoinette—a time when beauty was cherished and the styles were constantly over-the-top. Except in this version, it isn’t just makeup and wigs. The Belles have the power to completely change a person’s hair, skin, body type, and even bone structure. It made me think of the huge beauty industry in our own world, where so many people are focused on changing their looks, even resorting to plastic surgery. 

“There will be more men and women waiting to be changed, anticipating perfect results. There are expectations: to be better than Amber, to please Sophia, to satisfy the queen despite being her second choice, to make the kingdom fall in love with me. The pressure curls around me like the serpent on Princess Sabine’s emblem.”

But the book doesn’t just focus on the beautiful and glamorous side, and also explores the dark and ugly side of a culture focused on beauty. I especially liked that it didn’t just speak about the cost of these “treatments” for the person, but also how the Belles themselves are impacted. In a society that values them highly for being beautiful and offering others to change their appearance, the Belles have such high expectations placed on them. They’re expected to look beautiful and behave properly at all times, and are subjected to constantly being primped and pampered.

“Even though I’ve been dressed and measured and primped so many times, I still hate the feeling in these moments that my body doesn’t belong to me. I become a doll—an object to be embellished. I wonder if this is how women feel on our treatment tables.”

The story itself was incredibly well-written. The setting is described so beautifully and vividly, while the characters are so richly drawn that I could practically feel what they are going through. I found everything that I like in this book—hints of romance, plot twists (even though I guessed at a couple of them), and a story that I simply couldn’t put down. I’m already planning to get the next book as soon as possible!

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 11

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