This got off to a bit of a slow start for me but there is some wonderful world building and an intriguing story that’s so full of twists and turns that you can’t help but end up completely hooked. I just wish I could have connected a little more to main character Camellia but I have high hopes for the sequel.
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.
How important do you consider appearances? Is there some little thing you’d change about your appearance if you could? Would you be willing to put up with a little pain to do it? What if the way you looked determined your place in society? I know it already does to an extent, but if you lived in a society where position and power were determined solely by how you looked how far would you be willing to go and where would you stop?
These are the questions at the center of the Belles where how you look is much more important than who you are or what you do. This is a world where everyone is born grey, grey skin, grey hair and red eyes however if you have enough money you can change this with a little help from one of the Belles. The Belles have the power to make you look exactly how you want in a matter of moments but as the saying goes “beauty is only skin deep” and in this world where everyone can look how they want appearances are most definitely deceptive.
This is a book with a lot of hype around it so I will confess I was a little nervous going in particularly when it didn’t immediately grab me in the way it seemed to do so many others. There have been a number of reviews saying how they loved it from the very first page and how it hooked them straight away but I’m afraid that didn’t really happen for me. It may just have been the mood I was in but while the world Clayton creates is vivid and beautiful there was something very cold and a little superficial about it.
I’m not sure this was helped by my inability to connect with main character Camellia or if I’m honest with any of the Belles in the beginning. This obsession with beauty and their need to be the best at creating it so they can land the coveted spot as favorite really rubbed me the wrong way. And Camellia, who claims to love her “sisters” so much and want the best for them comes across as the most ruthlessly ambitious of them all.
First impressions are however not always correct and appearances aren’t always what they seem, and in this book nothing is truly what it seems. With every character presenting the face they want the world to see (literally) it’s difficult to tell who anyone really is and it soon becomes clear that life in the palace is not exactly what Camellia thought it would be. She’s promised a new and exciting life but instead finds herself worked to exhaustion, under constant scrutiny from the press who’re on the hunt for a scandal and caught up in a political power play that could put her life in danger. Add to this the fact that her most important customer is an evil tyrant and a bully (with a pretty face) and there’s something she’s not being told about how the Belles came to be and what happens to them when they’re no longer able to work and you have a very intriguing and engaging story.
There are more than a few twists and turns in this story, some I predicted some I did not, and once it got going I found it an incredibly addictive read. I may not have liked Camellia initially and having finished it I’m still not sure I do (she frustrated me too much) but I did like the way her character developed over the story and I loved the way certain relationships developed and changed. There were a couple of characters who surprised me in the best possible way and a couple I wish the author had developed a little bit further. I do however love a real villain and this story definitely has some truly evil ones (if you’re going to be bad be really bad, I think).
The writing is pretty wonderful and while I did think there was maybe a little too much going on at times the world building and the descriptions are incredible. It is the first in a series and I feel like I should warn you it does leave you hanging at the end (I’m gonna have to read the next book aren’t I) but it’s a great story and I think the next one just might be even better.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This in no way affected my review (which is now ridiculously late).