The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton was an enjoyable and distracting adventure into an opulent world so very removed from our own. Or, I should say, my own.
You see, I grew up on a steady diet of Joe Abercrombie and George R.R. Martin. Splatter fiction and grimdark. That may not have been the best way to prepare myself to review this book, but it speaks to the power of Clayton’s work that, even so, I enjoyed this story.
But what exactly did I enjoy? Funny you should ask. Let’s jump right in!
First of all, the premise. It’s original as can be. I’ve never heard of another story like this (and I’m going to attribute that to the author’s brilliance more than my own ignorance). Clayton has conceived a story that, simply put, draws readers in. It’s intriguing. I mean, read this thing:
“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.”
You want to know how to rope someone like myself into reading a book so seemingly outside my tastes? That’s how you do it. Beauty is no longer makeup and high heels, no longer blushing cheeks and smiling eyes. In Clayton’s world, beauty is a powerful force, and a deadly one at that.
Oh, and speaking of beauty…
“In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else.”
You can say that again. The Belles, as one might imagine, is a book that has a lot to do with beauty. While reading I was repeatedly impressed with just how many different – and perhaps most importantly, original – ways Clayton was able to describe beauty. If I tried to write this story, the word “beautiful” would have made up about seventy-five percent of the actual text. Lucky for me, and readers everywhere, Clayton is a far more talented writer than I in this respect. There are a lot of beautiful things in The Belles, but not once did I find myself thinking “I get it, it’s another beautiful object / person / garment.” Clayton embraces the full spectrum of senses to describe, in a near endless manner, the beauty inherent in the story’s world. And then she contrasts that wonderfully with…well, spoilers, you know?
Steering back into spoiler-free territory, another thing I quite enjoyed about The Belles was the rich tapestry of social life, arts, entertainment, and over all culture woven into the story. Clayton hasn’t just created a world on paper, she’s created a moving, breathing, and above all else, living world. Orléans, simply put, sounds like a dope place and also how do I get there? Do they have Wi-Fi? Seriously, the bags are packed. Let’s get a move on! I’m sure we’ll meet some interesting people, such as…
The main character of The Belles, one Camellia Beauregard. I quite liked this character. She was driven. She was passionate. She knew what she wanted, and she went out and got it. Personally, I love characters like that, and though Camellia certainly isn’t running around cutting people down with a sword, or laying siege to great capitals, her ambition is no less, well, ambitious. And, in a world where beauty can be deadly, well, let’s just say things can get interesting.
All in all, The Belles was an enjoyable story, beautifully written, with appealing characters and set in a world so real I’m pretty sure Clayton actually visited it in some through-the-wardrobe-esque Narnia shenanigans and just recorded an account of her time there.
If you’re a fan of dark, gritty fiction like myself, this won’t be right up your alley. But I still think you’ll enjoy it. If, on the other hand, you’re more a fan of the YA fiction scene, well, you’re going to love it.