THE BELLES | Dhonielle Clayton
Series: The Belles (Book 1)
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
“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.”
“Be the best without trying to be better than the others.”
The Belles and I didn’t get along too well. I was really hoping to like this one, but I just couldn’t find much joy in reading this book. It took me nearly three weeks to push through and finish it. Of course, it wasn’t all bad. There were some things that worked for me and were done very well; however, I’d have to say the majority of The Belles could have used a bit more work.
The book wasn’t at all badly written. Clayton is a very skilled writer and she knows how to use vivid description to paint a colorful world lush with luxurious textures, pleasing fragrances and tastes, and silvery sounds. The book is abundant with detail, but this is also somewhat of a weakness. The book is almost overwhelming with how much detail goes into the surrounding environment.
“You can never be clean enough, pretty enough, or smart enough.”
The world-building doesn’t feel completely accomplished as the majority of it is composed of decadent sights and wardrobes, character appearances, lavish foods and events, all of which start to feel like fluff rather than actual necessary detail. The lore behind New Orléans and its inhabitants as well as the concept of the Arcana (the magic system) and the Belles get lost underneath all the sensory information. Clayton’s imaginative concepts of the Arcana magic, the Belles, and persons who are born colorless, as well as the underlying subplot of subterfuge going on throughout the land don’t reach their full potential and aren’t fully explained as a result.
In regards to the characters, I have to say that I had a very hard time connecting to any of them, even the main character. Camellia isn’t a terrible MC but she’s not fantastic. She has a few great qualities, some of which include her rebellious nature and passion about her beauty work as well as her celebration of individualistic qualities in a person. She notices the tiny “flaws” in others and chooses to find the beauty in it and fights to find ways to enhance these small differences to avoid changing a person completely. Also, her sisterly bond with her fellow Belles is admirable.
Unfortunately, her strengths are often buried by her frequent ignorance (stupidity, really) and her one track mind to be the best and to be the favorite despite wild circumstances and being surrounded by unsavory characters. Her ambitions get really old really fast to the point where her character development reaches a limit. She becomes dull and very hard to care for by the end.
“’Don’t be fools. You can’t have both. Who wants love when one can be powerful?’”
I certainly didn’t like any of the other characters. They were either too familiar as archetypes or were just very badly developed and flat. The villain was overly villainous and without abstract motive, and their cruel actions were repetitive and far too frequent. I got tired of seeing them appear so often because their behavior became predictable and none too surprising after a while.
The love interest didn’t work for me at all. He was supposed to be this endearingly charming and odd fellow who was also somewhat of an ass, but he was just an ass to me. And his banter with Camellia felt wooden and rehearsed. Whenever they talked, I cringed, and it was painful watching Camellia fall in love with him.
Lastly, the book is really slow and boring. There are some interesting things happening here and there but not often enough to maintain my attention all the way through. The plot develops at a snail’s pace and by the end, there isn’t much that has happened since the beginning.
“’No one is a prisoner. Even you have the power to make your own choices.’”
The Belles had so much potential but most of it wasn’t fully exploited. I did enjoy the juxtaposition of the beautiful and the grotesque, the vivid details, the concepts behind the story, and the themes concerning beauty and societal standards, but everything else fell short for me. The magic system left too much room for questions, the world-building was limited, the characters weren’t all that likable, the pacing was painfully slow, the villain was too mustache-curling evil for no discernible reason, and strangely enough, there was too much showing and not enough telling.