I wasn’t too thrilled with The Belles, which is the prequel to this book by Dhonielle Clayton, but I found myself between audiobooks and caught up on all my podcasts, which meant it was time to download another audiobook. I happened to remember that the sequel to The Belles had come out a few months ago, so I decided to get this audiobook from my library. It’s the same narrator as the first book and the prose is just as flowery and over the top, which I really could have done without.
I soon found myself wondering why I was bothering to waste time on a series I wasn’t fully enjoying, but then the book got good and I was reminded that the story Clayton is telling is pretty fun and she’s making some really interesting comments on beauty, freedom, and the hierarchical nature of society. I felt that it was worth it to stick around for all that.
When we last left Camellia Beauregard, the queen had just died, but Camellia had discovered that Princess Sophia had been poisoning her older sister, Charlotte, in order to keep her asleep, and Camellia had managed to wake her up, whereupon she was whisked away from the palace by her supporters in order to protect her from Sophia. Camellia had also discovered that August, with whom she had been flirting and developed some romantic feelings, had betrayed her and handed over to Sophia all the information she had told him about the Belles so Sophia could use the information against them.
After waking up Charlotte, one of the guards, Rémy, had helped Camellia escape the palace with her best friend, Amber. Camellia had never liked or trusted Rémy, but it turns out he’s on their side and also a pretty good guy. He and Camellia quickly develop their own romance, which I’ve seen in other reviews that a lot of people had a hard time with, but I was all for it. It felt real to me and I thought they were adorable together. It seemed like a lot of readers had a hard time believing she could go from having feelings for August to having feelings for Rémy, but have you ever read Pride and Prejudice? It’s just like that.
So Camellia, Amber and Rémy meet up with another Belle, Edel in the Spice Isles, where they all start looking for Princess Charlotte so they can put her on the throne. Since they’re wanted by the Princess Sophia, they have to be careful about where they stay and be sure to cover their faces every time they leave, but Edel finds out that she can change her own appearance just like she can change a client’s appearance and she teaches Camellia to do the same. Camellia is hesitant because they have been taught their whole lives that Belles should never be vain and should only use their power on others, never on themselves, and if that isn’t about the very nature of oppression, then I don’t know what is.
So Camellia reluctantly learns to use her own Arcana on herself, and while she can only hold it for so long before it wears her out, she doesn’t get struck down by lightning or go mad by using her power for herself, so she keeps doing it and gets better and better at it, and of course it comes in handy all the time while they’re on the run.
Eventually, they get found out and their hideout gets raided by solders. Camellia, Rémy and Edel make a run for it, but Amber gets caught by the soldiers. Camellia wants to go back for her, but Edel points out that would only get them caught along with her and that doesn’t do anyone any good. After they’ve escaped and Camellia is wondering what they’re doing to Amber, Edel reveals that she never trusted Amber, that Amber was probably the one who gave away their location and that she wanted to get caught. Camellia doesn’t want to believe her, but some of the things Edel says make too much sense.
So they’re on the run again and Camellia wants to continue searching for Princess Charlotte so they can put her on the throne before Sophia’s coronation, but Edel wants to find and rescue one of their sister Belles who’s being kept prisoner in a beauty house (even though all the beauty houses are closed for the time being). They manage to find her, but she’s so weak she can’t even walk because her prisoners have taken so much of her blood in their quest to recreate the Belles for themselves. While they’re trying to get her out, she grabs Camellia’s dagger and stabs herself in the neck.
So that was a bust, but they still have to find Princess Charlotte. They end up getting kidnapped and held prisoner by a group called The Iron Ladies, which is an underground group of women who are leading the resistance against Sophia. They have rejected the notions of beauty perpetuated by society at large, but they’ve managed to come up with creams to dye their hair and keep it healthy, which makes me wonder how much they’ve really managed to embrace their natural appearance. They don’t like the Belles because they see the Belles as perpetuating the standards of beauty that cause all (or at least most) of the problems of society, but they want Sophia off the throne just as much as Camellia and Edel, so for right now, their causes are aligned.
It turns out the Iron Ladies know where Princess Charlotte is and they agree to take Camellia and Edel to her. Edel gets caught on the way, but Camellia makes it to Charlotte, who is still pretty weak, but getting stronger every day. Much to Camellia’s surprise, it turns out August helped Charlotte escape from the palace and he’s facilitating communication between her and The Iron Ladies. He insists he was forced to betray Camellia, that he really had feelings for her, and he’s regretted his betrayal ever since and has been trying to make up for it by helping Charlotte and The Iron Ladies. Camellia is understandably slow to trust him again, but she doesn’t have much of a choice if she wants to see Charlotte.
Camellia, Charlotte, and The Iron Ladies come up with a plan to infiltrate the palace on the day of Sophia’s coronation (which can’t take place until midnight that night). Camellia goes in disguised as someone who sells teacup dragons. It’s not long before her true identity is revealed, but before it is, she manages to create the opening The Iron Ladies need to get into the palace, so at that point, it’s just a matter of killing time until they can get in there and do their thing.
It turns out Amber was working with Sophia to lure Camellia into the palace and there’s a pretty epic battle between Camellia and Sophia that involved Camellia disguising herself as Sophia and imitating everything she did so the guards didn’t know who was who, but Sophia put a stop to that pretty quick by killing Amber.
The good news is that it distracted Sophia and her guards long enough that The Iron Ladies could break in with Charlotte in time to prevent Sophia from claiming her throne.
According to Goodreads, there’s a third book on the way some time next year, but there’s still no title and the ending of this book felt pretty solid to me. Charlotte claims her rightful throne, The Iron Ladies go public and start helping people transition who want to give up beauty work, and the Belles go back to doing their thing. Camellia goes back home to live with her sisters and train the next generation of Belles and it appears to be a fairly solid happily ever after. If there is another book, I’m not sure I’m going to make the time to read or listen to it, but we’ll see.
What did you read this week? Anything with so-so writing, but a great concept?