THE BELLES (The Belles #1) - by Dhonielle Clayton

THE BELLES (The Belles #1) - Dhonielle Clayton
Published: February 2018 - Disney Hyperion.
Genres: Young adult / fantasy /
Pages: 440.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Occasional violence / one scene of sexual assault
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Jonathan Ball SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

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.

The reviews for this novel have been so, so mixed. I was nervous to start reading it for myself. But the cover stole my breath away, and so I just had to see if the inside was as gorgeous.

The writing is beautiful. I mean that with my whole heart. Yes, some parts are purple prosy, but it actually works because it isn't just nonsense - the lavish language makes sense, the words aren't just thrown in out of the blue, and the book would not be the same without such colourful, tangible prose. It works perfectly for the story Clayton's telling. She works magic into her words, and the descriptions are particularly breathtaking.

The world of Orlèans is spectacular. The scenes are richly specific without being tedious, the sights and smells sweep you into their embrace, and you're lost in an escapist dream of glitz, dazzle, and the dark glamour of such a majestic world.  It may hide the deadliest of secrets, but on the outside it shines like a thousand coloured gems. You don't want to be there, but your mouth will water looking in. Clayton has created a literal wonderland.

“Dreams remind us of who we are and how we feel about the things around us.”

“Be the best without trying to be better than the others.”

The plot is slow, but it never drags. Even though there isn't always physical action, the characters and the alluring mysteries of the world keep you captivated, and not for one minute was I bored. The story gripped me, enticed me, shocked me, and it held me. It's utterly engrossing.
It's also terrifying. There are some truly horrific, downright wicked, parts to the story that made my heart shudder. The intensity of the darkness Clayton weaves into the outwardly immaculate world, makes a chilling statement about society's perception of women and appearance. She's a wickedly clever writer, and she hits hard. It's fascinating, but it's horrifying at the same time. It'll give you the chills.

The characters make up an extremely engaging cast, and even the villains are entrancing. You don't get to see a lot of layers in terms of backstory, etc, but everyone is still distinct, vivid, and compelling. Camille is a great heroine, and I just adore her relationships with her Belle sisters. They might be competing for the same thing, but there's a real sisterly bond between all of them, and if you love female friendships, you'll be overjoyed at all the strong girls-supporting-girls themes and subplots. They're so beautiful. I loved them.

The Belles is a devilishly delectable tale set in an opulent world where appearance is paramount. The writing is irresistible, the characters are captivating, and the plot is a dark beast smoldering with chilling intensity.   

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