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Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, 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 Orleans 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 Orleans 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. Dhonielle Clayton creates a rich, detailed, decadent world of excess and privilege, where beauty is not only skin-deep, but a complete mirage. Weaving deeper questions about the commodification of women's bodies, gender equality, racial identity, and vanity with high-stakes action and incredible imagery, The Belles is the must-read epic of the season.
Wonderfully lush story
Lush writing, exquisite detail, a fantastical setting and gripping story make The Belles a standout YA fantasy. Camille's character has a strong attention to detail in accordance with her beauty work as a Belle, and her descriptions of Orleans will make you want to rush off to a bakery and a fashion boutique, possibly at the same time (powdered skin like an overly frosted piece of caramel cake, buttercup yellow day dress, etc.). The physical pain and monetary cost of the Belles' beauty work are symbolic of the extreme methods people today use to try and conform to unrealistic beauty standards. I appreciated how Camille sees her work as helping people love themselves, rather than as a money-making opportunity like others in her industry. Despite being at the heart of the Orleans beauty industry, she believes that people's natural and inner beauty are more important than being supermodel gorgeous. The setting of Orleans is whimsical, playful, and full of delightful details like teacup animals, all of which combine to make The Belles compulsively readable.
Who Are The Belles?
In simplistic terms, they're beauty makers/stylists for people born with gray skin and red eyes. There's nothing more a Belle loves to do than add beauty to the world. They primp, polish, pamper and shine their blank canvases from head to toe. These makeovers don't last forever -- so this beauty makeover should be used to every advantage. Once you've tasted the fruits of beauty and all that embodies ... can you then live without it? Visually stunning descriptions and imagery.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an ARC of this book provided by Disney/Netgalley.
Belles is the first book in the series and it does a great job setting up foe the series. The fantasy world of Orleans was described beautifully, but those who live there are cursed. See, the God of Sky fell in love with the Goddess of beauty and felt slighted when he believed she loved her people more than him. He curse them, stripping away all color and beauty.
The Belles were created to restore beauty to the people of Orleans, but only for the ones who could afford the procedures. The price of being able to change your hair and skin color and tone, your body features doesn’t come at a small price. The procedures are sometimes ling and painful, but to beautiful is the envy of both women and men. But even with all this outer beauty, there is still an ugliness that sometimes can’t be changed. And Camille, our main Belle we follow, learns that the hard way.
Being picked as the Queen’s “Favorite” is everything to the Belles. It was they’ve trained and strived for. Now as the story starts we are introduced to several Belles, but the main one the story follows is Camille. She is a rule pusher, but she excels at her magic with amazing results. She’s also a perfectionist, and a worrier. I have to admit, I went back and forth liking her and wanting to shake some sense into her. She could be quite frustrating at times, but I did believe she had her heart in the right place for the most part.
The concept behind this was very intriguing which is what drew me to read this. It did however take a little to get into, which was okay with me, it is a fantasy world that needed some world building. It was a little slow for me at times. But with the different social classes and they work it was great to learn about them. There are even teacup elephants, monkeys and dragons. *I want a teacup monkey!* And, of course there is always the power hungry ones who stand out. One particular, well, she was just evil to the core. Lots of little plot twist throughout but there were some things that happened during the story that I didn’t understand the “why’s” behind them. Maybe it was just me, but I will say there is an attempted sexual assault, which was unsettling and it wasn’t handle all that well with in the palace either…
There were big secrets uncovered that led up to a suspenseful cliffhanger ending. Even with some of the questions I was left with at the end, Camille had really redeemed herself for me and grown so much, I am curious to see how she and her friends make out in their perilous situation.
Even though I did have a couple of issues while reading, I did still enjoy the world and concept behind it all and I would recommend this more to the upper young adult readers. Belles was a good start to the series and look forward to continuing it.