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.
I am so, so disappointed by The Belles. It’s possibly one of the most hyped books of the season, and I was really excited to get my hands on it, but it turned out to be a massive disappointment.
I loved the premise and the idea of what message the author was trying to send. The world in this book is basically run on beauty. The rich of Orleans get magical plastic surgery on a whim in order to look younger, look prettier, or just to stand out more. I loved the idea of a group of Belles using arcana to achieve these beauty standards. Unfortunately, the concept wasn’t executed very well at all.
The plot dragged right from the start. The first couple of chapters did nothing to draw me in, and I was bored pretty much from the beginning. I didn’t want to put it down, though, because everyone was talking about the book and I guess I didn’t want to miss out. The ending was slightly better than the beginning of the book, although that’s not saying much at all. If the book was written better, I would have been at least a little bit interested in reading the sequel after reading the ending. Alas.
On the plus side, the main character is black and this is an own voices book, so yay. Maybe others will connect with this more than I did.
That said, the LGBTQIA+ representation in this book is… lacking. There are two prominent queer characters, which would be great since one is the queen, except the book takes a nosedive when it falls into the Bury Your Gays trope. I’m okay with spoiling this because it’s not a nice trope, but if you’re not interested in finding out then you should skip this next bit. You’ll have to highlight the text to see it.
One character, who is a lesbian, is killed in a violent and painful way by two straight characters. It was difficult to read, especially as it went on for a while. The second, the bisexual queen, is killed off-screen. We’re told that she’s dead via a newspaper article, which simply states that her heart has stopped. Nothing more.
I was really disappointed with how this was handled, especially as, as far as I’m aware, these two were the only queer characters in the book.
Like I said, I’m just disappointed by this book in general. I don’t really understand why it’s getting so much love or hype, but I guess other people are getting something from it that I’m not.