Thursday, May 31, 2018

Joint Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton




Jess' take:

Camellia Beauregard and her sisters are Belles, young women gifted with the talent to make the gray people of Orléans vibrant with color. Beauty is the economic backbone of Orléans and even though they are treated as queens, Camellia and the other Belles quickly learn  something dark lays beneath their work

I read this book a while ago and I had a lot of feelings. This was one of the most highly anticipated YA books of 2018  and was a phenomenal audiobook, but the story just left me scratching my head and the world seems to fall apart under scrutiny.

When the book opens we see Camellia perform a non-traditional transformation which is kind of cool, until later in the book you learn that transformations are grueling and painful. Which didn't comes across in this opening scene? Also, the girls are competing to become the favorite and work in the palace. I hate to be nitpicky but.. the favorite? That was the best name for it? The favorite?

We follow Camellia as she begins her work as a Belle in Orléans.  We follow her step-by-step from her introduction to her discovery of how harsh life really is in the kingdom and it all left me kind of looking around for the plot.

Along the way we, as the reader, and Camellia start to see and hear things that contradict what Camilla has been taught. For example, she learns there are unofficial Belles in Orléans and that work hours are grueling and she won't be able to see her sisters. Slowly, the fundamental things she has been taught her whole life are being contradicted and she never seems to care? The people of Orléans can’t even “be cool” or whatever because they hint and talk about the unofficial Belles to the official ones.

Like, are we really supposed to believe no other Belles have ever tried to leave? I’m guessing this will be addressed in the sequel.

Clayton says this book was inspired by The Uglies and I think it's an interesting take on the same theme, but I think what this book was missing was brevity. It's 488 pages of watching people do and say exactly what they are doing and saying.

When some things get revealed in the end...it's not really a reveal because we already knew about them. I mean once we see how challenging the work is you can figure out that it’d be pretty impossible for six Belles to service an entire realm. We already know unofficial Belles are kept in hiding because we see one, and we already know Belles aren't born traditionally because we are told and we already know the princess is cray-cray. It just took 300 pages for the heroine to realize.

I did like the world-building in this book. Clayton develops this quasi-Gilded Age French inspired steampunk world. I think this book will appeal to those who like The Selection, in that is all about the process.

Now, the Belles mentions multiple times that what they do isn't magic... yet magic does seem to exist in this world, as a character uses people's DNA to create a "wall" where she can watch their movements. That seemed like a big lipped alligator moment to me.

I wanted to love this book, I want more diverse fantasy and while this is highly imaginative it just didn't do it for me





Kat's Take
This book needs no introduction, it’s been the belle of YA Twitter ball since its cover debuted as an  with a black girl in a pretty dress on the cover. In this female forward magical fantasy, it is the duty of the Belles to create and maintain the beauty of the gray citizens. As the story unfolds Camillia Beauregard, the most talented Belle of the new class, begins to discover the true ugliness behind the beauty she and her sisters create. Dhonielle Clayton brings the magical world of Orléans to life with lush descriptions of a steampunk-y Belle Epoque but like, covered in a layer of frosting and sprinkles.

While the world has been carefully built down to the last detail the plot development moves at such a slow pace with multiple scenes of beauty work that felt repetitive after the first time.This is the first in a duology and this really did feel like half a story, we don’t get on the “hero’s journey” until the last quarter of the book and there’s no real payoff.

Audiobook narrator Rosie Jones was a treat, I liked the kind of pouty, posh British accent she did for Camellia. She has such a great command of accents, her American accent was flawless and she even adds some Irish lilts in as well. Camellia has 6 sisters and in scenes where the girls are together Jones ability to create unique and different voices shines. ★★★ + .5







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