This book by Dhonielle Clayton was getting a lot of buzz when it came out earlier this year and YA fantasy is my jam, so of course I couldn’t wait to read this book. A friend of mine also recommended it to me, which sealed the deal. Knowing I wouldn’t have time to read it, I opted for the audiobook.
It was good, but given all the rave reviews I had heard, I was expecting better. The narrator was good, but she had a habit of emphasizing every other word, especially when narrating the MC’s internal questions. The beginning of the book was so busy describing the physical attributes of everyone and everything that it didn’t take long to get on my nerves. If I hadn’t heard such good things about the book, I probably would have bailed on it.
But I’m glad I didn’t. The beginning of the book only puts so much emphasis on beauty because the world in which it takes place is obsessed with beauty.
The main character, Camellia Beauregard, is a Belle. The Belles are a class of people who were blessed by the gods with both beauty and the gift of bestowing beauty on others. Most people have gray skin and pale, limp hair unless they get “beauty treatments” by a Belle. A Belle can use their Arcana to change a person’s size, shape, and color so they can look however they want. But the effects wear off, so they need treatments on a regular basis. This also allows them to change their look as often as they want (which most of them do), which made me wonder how anyone manages to recognize anyone else.
Of course, the process is very painful and a special tea is administered to help with the pain, although because it’s a drug, only a certain amount of tea is recommended per treatment. That and, if the Belles push themselves too hard, they’ll drain themselves of their Arcana and be useless until they’ve had a chance to rest.
I thought this book had an interesting take on beauty and the lengths to which people will go to achieve it, including putting up with excruciating pain. I also thought it was interesting that the royal Belle got to determine what was fashionable and what wasn’t (including hair color and body shape). It was a different take on the fact that different styles of beauty go in and out of fashion and I appreciated it.
In each generation, there’s a royal Belle, who serves the court, and a Belle for each of the major houses where people can go to get beauty treatments. Only the royal family and the aristocracy can afford to get beauty treatments, but they don’t pay the Belles – they pay the house where the Belle works and the Belles have no say in which clients they treat or when they work. They’re given a position of prominence and esteem, but no power.
Just in case you weren’t sure if that sounds like slavery, by the end of the book, the evil princess has taken over the throne and set up platforms in the main square where she plans on selling Belles.
I can’t wait for the sequel!
What did you read/listen to this week? Anything else that almost didn’t live up to the hype?