My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Belles was not what I expected, despite the description there is more and less to the book than the summary might lead you to believe. I was led to believe that even though this was a society that valued beauty above all else, our main character would subvert that and along the way attempt to change the status quo. I didn’t feel that the idea of beauty was bucked at all in this book and I’m not sure if it was meant to be.
It was nice to see that one style, colour, or physique was not deemed most beautiful, as the trends shifted with the wind. I loved the idea that anything and anyone can be beautiful, but it wasn’t all-inclusive. There was still the idea that certain things were beautiful and others were not. That was the one let-down. The book wholeheartedly embraced beauty which weakened the impact of the story in my opinion.
Camellia, our main character, wants to become the favourite Belle more than anything (as her mother was before her). Both she and her sisters have been trained their whole lives for their roles as Belles, girls with abilities who can make Orléans beautiful. I really liked that she was not docile and had trouble listening to the customer because she had her own ideas. She could be headstrong and although she made many ill-fated choices, I found her to be a generally likable character. I felt that she had a decent amount of character development, but the rest of her sisters did not fair as well. Most of them were interchangeable and in desperate need of depth. I cannot wait to see how they are fleshed out in future books.
The writing was what shone in this novel, as the author has such a beautiful and vivid way of writing. The vibrant writing both clashed and melded with the darker subplot of the book. It lent additional horror to some of the crueler acts and beauty to the moments that needed them. Even the antagonist was woven into this story of beauty and cruelty through twining words and twisted deeds.
As this is a fantasy world, there was a lot of world building that needed to be done and a significant portion of that was given to the reader from the start. That might make it challenging for some to progress into the book as it starts off a little slowly and is a tad bit dense. It does pick up and becomes very enjoyable by the time we find ourselves in the palace. By the end, I was invested in the plot and cannot wait to see where the author takes us in the future.