Title: The Belles
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Publisher: Freeform Books
Review Copy: Purchased from Amazon
Availability: Available Now
Summary: 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.
Review: I have to be honest that I struggled with what to say about “The Belles” because I found this book really disturbing. The novel has been described as “lush” and it is, with Clayton being extremely descriptive of the gowns, the setting, the food throughout the story, but for me after the initial few chapters, the excessive descriptions started to bother me. And then, midway through the novel I realized that this over-abundance of beautific descriptions was meant to be disturbing as to highlight how the notion of beauty has basically driven this society that Clayton created to madness, though they do not think they are mad. “The Belles” is a dark, disturbing novel that is a warning about what can happen when the desire to be beautiful reaches a point where reason is practically lost. The novel subtly explores the concept of slavery, yes that is what I feel the Belles are, even though they are celebrated, and the things people will do to keep making money off the backs of people. All in all, I realize that the point of the novel is to disturb the reader, to shake them up as the book is still with me days after I’ve finished it.
The strength of “The Belles” completely rides on the main character, Camellia (Camille) Beauregard’s, story. Camellia is a “Belle”, humans who have the power to make people beautiful, and has been trained since birth to harness her power with the intention of serving all the people the kingdom. She is one of six Belles of her generation who are debuting at the beginning of the book. She states that once she and her sisters debut, the previous generation leaves. This was my first disturbing thought – six Belles for an entire nation? Something wasn’t right. Soon, Camille realizes this exact notion when she first begins working at a tea house in the capital city. Then Camille replaces her sister Amber as the Queen’s favorite and she soon discovers how far people are willing to go to be beautiful, especially Princess Sophia. Clayton, I must say, wrote a perfect villain in Princess Sophia because it was clear that her desire to be beautiful, to mean something to someone, is what drove her to do the things she did, but her acts were so deplorable that I truly hated her. And this is where Clayton’s theme of slavery rings the loudest because Sophia has Camille to do some truly horrendous things and even though Camille knows they are wrong, she must obey. I truly felt for Camille and greatly wished she could stand up to Sophia in those moments but knew that for her, agreeing to perform those acts were all about survival. Camille does stand up to Sophia in her own way, but Sophia has ultimate power, which corrupts, and Camille unfortunately does not have enough power to truly fight Sophia. That power struggle was awful to read, butt also very real which truly added to this dark story.
I feel like “The Belles” is a true subversive book for our current time period as it hits on so many themes – the desire for beauty, power, slavery, exploitation, that it forces the reader to reflect on these themes that are uncomfortable but ones we need to ultimately examine. The Belles is the perfect book with which to have those conversations because it serves as a warning to us as to what can happen when we let our desire to be beautiful and our desire for power to get out of control.