Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, 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 Orleans 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 Orleans 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.
What worked: This is one of those books that totally lives up to the hype. Rich, lush descriptions woven throughout a world where beauty is a commodity that comes with a cost. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, someone who can bring beauty to those who can pay the cost. Among with her other sisters, they try out to be the Queen's favorite. Once Camellia gets to the palace she finds there are secrets that include lies about her own purpose.
Totally captivating, I got swept up in the world of Orleans and the Belles. Each page is like eating a macaron, you can't stop just at one. There's so much to love about this story. There's court intrigue, dark secrets, hidden costs to wanting to be beautiful, and an evil Queen in the making.
Wonderful world building throughout. Each scene is intricate with how the Belles perform the ceremonies to make someone beautiful, the palace, and those animal teacups. Not only do the Belles change someone's outer appearance, but can also change a trait that might not be that great. Camellia is a strong protagonist that even though she wants badly to be the Queen's 'favorite', she has a conscience on how far to change someone's appearance in court. At times that lands her in trouble.
Thoroughly engaging, this fantasy will appeal to fans of Once Upon A Time with a beauty twist. The cover alone is gorgeous, just like the writing. I'm hooked and can't wait to see the further adventures of Camellia and her sisters.
"The Belles" is a fantastic YA fantasy, taking place in the kingdom of Orleans. Legend has it that the goddess of beauty once walked among her children, but when her husband, the God of the Sky, was unable to keep her attention/get her away from her children, he cursed her children to be ugly with gray skin, red eyes, and straw hair. In return, she created the Belles to walk the earth in her stead and create beauty. The Belles themselves are beautiful in many different ways and do not need treatments to remain so. They have arcana running through their veins that allows them to transform the people of Orleans into something beautiful. However, this wears off after some time, and so the people need constant treatments.
The book begins with one of the six Belles of the year, Camellia, who is competing with her sisters to become the Queen's Favorite. The favorite not only works with the royals to maintain their looks, but sets fashion/beauty trends and beauty laws (what you are allowed or not allowed to do with your look). The rest will be send to teahouses to work on the people on the different islands/areas of Orleans. All of the Belles yearn to be the favorite- but the competition will determine who wins. As you know from the synopsis, although not initially chosen to be the favorite, Camellia does eventually become the favorite and faces more than she ever could have bargained for- she is faced with the truth of the Belles and the ugliness of people- despite outward appearances.
I was absolutely enthralled with this book from the start- it grabs you and pulls you in, and the pace never slows down enough to lose your attention. This will be a book you'll stay up all night reading! Camellia was an interesting character- we follow her in first person perspective, but she's not perfect and her flaws make her so much more real. The book raises interesting questions about power and the weight that humanity places on beauty/appearance. It is really so much more than it seems at first glance.
I highly recommend this book to older YA readers- I might have younger ones sit it out for some content which may be appropriate for older readers, including death, attempted rape, and slavery. There is also some romance that felt extremely awkward, but it does become clearer towards the end. Camellia also feels very young at times, but I think this was due to her extremely sheltered upbringing and did make sense for her character. I am really curious to see where this series will go- it's quite unique and I absolutely loved it! For people who might want to know, it does end with a bit of a cliffhanger, so you'll definitely be aching for the next book in the series! This is a must-watch debut author whose books I would love to continue to read!
Please note that I received a book from the publisher through bookish first. All opinions are my own.