The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

In a world where Beauty reigns, what is the cost of being yourself?

Cover of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

I love books where I have absolutely no clue what will happen next. There is no ability to create expectations for this book, because I have never read anything like it. It starts like a traditional YA with an inventive twist, then morphs through every other genre: romance, thriller, sci-fi, horror. You can find elements of everything from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes to Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm, with a touch of Disney brushed in. Now that I think of it, when I conjure the world of Orleans in my mind, I see it in the lovely overly-vivid painted scenery of Disney movies of the forties. The dramatic imagery and bright descriptions of the background, but most of all the people, enlivens an already thrilling story.

What is the story? In the world of Orleans, the goddess of Beauty gives (to the Belles) and takes (from everyone else). The Belles, a select group blessed with the ability to bestow physical characteristics, help maintain the perfection demanded by the citizens and their rulers. It demands precision and consummate attention and faultless purity. Camellia Beaureguard works to achieve all that she has ever wanted and create new standards of Beauty, but the ideal of the palace is not what it seems.

My one criticism is that the pacing changes dramatically halfway through the book, and feels like a rush to the finish. I would have liked more room for the story to breathe at the end, to get more of a feel for the events. Also, while queer characters definitely exist in this world, it feels like they are at times not given the space/attention/respect I would expect.

This book demands attention. It is definitely not for everyone, especially those looking for a light read based on the cover description. However, I am excited to find out what happens next.

CW for the book itself: body image, gore, assault, sexual assault

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