Title: The Beauty Trials
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Review Copy: ARC by publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: With the dangerous, erratic Princess Sophia imprisoned, Queen Charlotte decides to invoke the ancient tradition of The Beauty Trials-a series of harrowing tests meant to find the one true ruler of Orleans. Edel, who has always aspired to be more than just a Belle, decides to enter and, after promising to bind her arcana to keep from having an unnatural advantage, joins a few dozen other hopefuls intent on becoming the next Queen of Orleans.
But the trials are far worse than any of them bargained for. As the women are put through dangerous tasks meant to test their strength, confidence, composure, and bravery, many perish, and Edel is mysteriously attacked by one of the other competitors-forcing her to use her powers just to survive. Will her subterfuge cost her the crown, or is there a larger conspiracy at play?
Review: Since it had been a while since “The Everlasting Rose (Book 2 of The Belles)” I decided to re-read both in preparation for “The Beauty Trials”. The one memory I had from both of the novels was the disturbing descriptions of beauty and what the people would do for them. Both novels were intense and I was happy to wander in the world again.
I expected “The Beauty Trials” to be just as full of extreme descriptive details but Clayton took a different track with this third book. A major change is that the story is told from Edel’s point of view rather than Camille’s and it was honestly a refreshing take. In the first two books Edel never desired to be a Belle and *spoilers* ran away from her “duty”. She was the more sarcastic of the Belles and always said what was on her mind. Having Edel be the focus of this third book, which focuses on the changes happening to Orleans after Charlotte takes the throne, was perfect. Edel may have not wanted to be a Belle, but she is willing to fight for her sisters, for them to not be slaves to the crown. I use the words slaves with purpose because the analogy is very strong in this book. Freedom was in danger for the Belles in “The Everlasting Rose”, but in “The Beauty Trials” we learn that freedom for the Belles wasn’t actually free and Edel is doing the work to keep fighting for them. So much so that she decides to participate in the Beauty Trials as she feels that by winning and becoming queen, she could create a world where the Belles have agency over their lives.
With this third book and the notion of the Beauty Trials, the magic that exists in Orleans really shines through. In the first two books it was subtle, like an every day thing, where in this book it becomes a matter of how their world functions. “Magic” is how Orleans came to be and what was once thought of mythos is actually true and I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. Edel believed the stories about the Beauty Trials were more myth than reality, but through the trials learns the truth. And learning this truth has her questioning everything she holds dear. In order to win, Edel has to let go of preconceived notions and open herself up to “fantasy and make believe” (though a much darker form). She has to be open to the fantastical world she experiences during the trials and I enjoyed going on this journey with her. Edel constantly questioned herself and her understanding of the world but through the trials, truly grew into a young woman who considered many options and listened to the advice of people around her. I really liked Camille, but I found myself really connecting with Edel and watching her grow into a strong leader and a person that others around her looked up to.
I enjoyed journeying into the world of the Belles and while I would love for another book, “The Beauty Trials” brings a satisfying conclusion. We are able to see how the world shifted after Sophia was deposed and how it continued to change to become a world that doesn’t try to hide because superficial beauty.