The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
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.
2.5 stars, rounded to 2
I have a lot of qualms with this book.
First and foremost, I hated the narrator. I can’t even remember her name right now, and it was said so many times throughout the book. She was just annoying, and I never felt like I understood her motivations or reasoning behind certain things. Which is potentially my biggest issue with this book: the characterization for most of the main characters made no sense. The narrator would do something or react to things in a certain way, and it wasn’t always clear as to why she was reacting in that way. As the book went along, a lot of her reactions felt contradictory to what we knew about her. For example, the main character is portrayed as a bit of a rule breaker, but in the pursuit of good. She breaks the rules because it’s what she believes is the right thing. Which makes sense, I like that characterization. However, when the queen approaches her with this ~secret, not-really-allowed~ task, she hesitates. If helping the queen is obviously the right thing to do, even if it means breaking the rules, wouldn’t it make the most sense for the main character to just agree? Strictly based on how she has been portrayed to us, it would make sense for her agree to help the queen. Instead, she spends several chapters “deciding” (and by deciding, I mean thinking about it once and being like, “yeah, I’ll do that”). Which seemed odd and out of character.
Another example was her sister, Amber. Amber was portrayed as this nice, rule-following, ambitious gal (same), but in one scene, she is immediately ready to throw hands with the main character (still can’t remember her name) and take things too far and kill someone. If she was such a rule-follower, which is one of her biggest personality traits, she wouldn’t take things that far, even if she was blinded by her ambition or pride. Or, if the author intended Amber to be blinded by her pride or ambition, Amber should have had a moment where she reconciled with that. But she didn’t, so it seemed so odd.
I did think a lot of the side characters were fairly well characterized, though. The princess and queen, for example, made sense. I understood them and their motivations. The other sisters, who we barely saw, made sense. The side characters who were barely explored felt like more realistic characters than the main characters did.
I also thought the plot was overly convoluted, like the author tried to do too many things at once. Things happened too quickly and too slowly at once, and it was super disjointed. We’d be at a party and then the main character is immediately crying in her bed? Which is on fire? And then the fire is put out in like one paragraph, but the character cries for the rest of the chapter? Idk man, I was lost.
This book also had a lot of tropes I’m really not a fan of:
- Burying your gays: there are two f/f relationships in this book, and someone dies in BOTH of them. It is 2020, can we please stop burying our gays?
- The “the slightly overweight and slightly stupid friend likes to eat a lot” trope, which is one of my personal pet peeves. Can we please stop portraying eating and enjoying food with being stupid? Please?
I’ve debated a lot about whether I want to read the next one, and I initially said on Goodreads that I was going to, but I think I’ve decided I don’t care enough. I’m not super invested in the characters (obviously) and I can probably predict largely what will happen in the next one.
Camille. The main character is named Camille.
I’ve also been pondering a lot. This is maybe a bit of a tangent and not related to my thoughts on the book, just some things I was thinking. In this book, the Belles can change someone’s appearance, including their skin colour. And not just slight adjustments, but complete changes. Certain characters would flip flop from having dark skin to light skin to brown skin to white skin. I’m not calling this black face or anything because the characters start out gray, so it’s not like they have a “race” or anything. But. One criticism I’ve seen of Six of Crows is that it does “magic yellow face”. The magical character magically changes the appearance of a non-Asian character to look Asian for reasons. I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but that criticism has never come up (as far as I can tell) for the Belles. And I guess it’s different because, like I said, the characters in the Belles don’t really have a race whereas the character in SOC did. But in the Belles, people are generally encouraged to pick a certain look and more or less stick with it, which most characters do. If one character had light brown skin and decided to one day change their appearance to be darker, would that be considered black face? Idk it was just a thought I had.
Anyhoo, idk if I’d recommend this book honestly. If you were interested in it, I’m not going to discourage you from reading. I don’t think it’s bad or harmful in anyway, I just didn’t enjoy it. But a lot of people have, so you might.
But those are just my thoughts! Have you read this book? What did you think? Were you equally annoyed as me? Let me know!