Book Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pub. Date: 02/06/2018
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover (Publisher)

Goodreads 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 (Originally Posted on BookishFirst):

Dhonielle Clayton’s novel, THE BELLES, takes place in a fantastical world with a diverse group of characters. The setting is the magnificent Kingdom of Orléans — made up of distinctive isles and islands surrounding the main Imperial Island where the majority of the story takes place. From the first chapter, readers are immersed in Clayton’s superb world-building and gorgeous prose. We can see, hear, smell and taste (at least, in our imaginations) everything. The archipelago is filled with vibrant clothes, creative objects and gadgets, and fascinating people.

The protagonist is Camellia Beauregard. She’s instantly likable. Through her arcana she controls beauty. She is a Belle. Camellia is one of six other young women who will be chosen to be the Queen’s favorite. The Belle will live in the royal palace and attend to the beauty regimens of the royal family and court. But this position is not what it seems. Dangerous secrets lurk beneath the royal facade and the kingdom. Camellia soon discovers how far people will go to be beautiful…and the price they pay. I quickly turned the pages to find out what happens next.

The novel has a touch of romance but it doesn’t overpower the story. Instead, THE BELLES focuses on sisterhood, friendship, and family. There’s also a special note, from Clayton, explaining her journey of writing the book and why she did so. I’m looking forward to the second book!

Expanded Review:

Clayton’s writing is vivid and descriptive. I loved this aspect of the novel. After reading THE BELLES Orléans has become a living, breathing world to me. All of the characters — from the protagonist to the secondary characters — are well developed and have compelling personalities, quirks, and secrets. As I mentioned above, I especially enjoyed that the novel focuses on the women and the young girls in the book.

At first, readers will feel the world of Orléans is fanciful, light and fluffy, and dreamlike. Yet, Clayton weaves the darkness and ugliness of the world and its residents within the narrative. It’s there. It’s subtle. And it hits you in the gut.

When you read about her personal struggles as a teen and how it motivated her to write the novel, it becomes a much bigger story. I also enjoyed how Camellia saw the beauty within the residents who are considered “ugly.” THE BELLES really digs deep into how we see ourselves and how people perceive us. The Belles are revered in Orléans, but they are prisoners within their roles and within the kingdom. Clayton also touches on bullying, identity, and our obsessions with dieting, beauty products and plastic surgery particularly the media’s influence.

Make sure to visit Clayton’s website to find out more about the world and the historical inspiration behind the story. The cover is gorgeous and inside there is a beautiful map of Orléans. This book is not to be missed! Add it to your book collection today!

Have you read THE BELLES? If so, what did you think?

About the Author

Dhonielle Clayton is the co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series. She grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs on the Maryland side and spent most of her time under her grandmother’s table with a stack of books. A former teacher and middle school librarian, Dhonielle is co-founder of CAKE Literary—a creative development company whipping up decidedly diverse books for a wide array of readers—and COO of the non-profit, We Need Diverse Books.

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