Review – The Belles

The Belles, Dystopian YA by Dhonielle Clayton

Series: The Belles #1

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Rarely have I seen a book where the writing style so perfectly suited the setting and theme. The Belles is lyrically stunning, set in a darkly dangerous world covered in disarmingly gorgeous gilt. From the start, it infuses the trend/(sub?)genre of YA Dystopia with a much-needed spin.

In Orléans, beauty is the most precious ideal. Beauty expenses outstrip that of food in the average household. Ordinary people are cursed  with ugly natural bodies, with grey skin and hair like straw. Belles are manifestations of the Goddess of Beauty’s will, using their arcana to make people beautiful. Or at least, more to a paying customer’s own tastes. Camille, professionally known by her flower name of Camellia, is one such Belle. She wants nothing more than to be chosen as the queen’s favourite, as her mother was.

However, like many a lovely thing, the beauty of the court and courtiers hides dark secrets that threaten to poison Orléans from the inside out.

I loved everything about this book. The prose is richly descriptive, bursting with sensation and a joie de vivre that contrasts sharply with the drama as it mounts. Colours, flowers, foods, and fashions all come to dazzling life with consistent energy. There’s an undercurrent of both frenzy and holy devotion to the way that all of the characters feel about beauty. Insatiable, ever-changing, mercurial, obsessed. At times, it feels like the most brilliantly lit gothic romance.

This is definitely a series I want to see through to the end. The world is extravagant in scope and execution, for all that it focuses on the upper class and very little on those not of the court. I loved the way arcana worked–especially the parallels to cosmetic surgery in the real world. The device of gossip rag headlines to convey information was often enticingly subtle. The villain is honestly upsetting, and I found Camellia’s voice engaging and sympathetic.

I was literally on the edge of my seat, up at midnight with my Kindle inches from my face as I sped to the end. It’s that good.

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.)

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