The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

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October 8, 2019

The beautiful cover of The Belles.

I read The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton for two primary reasons:

  1. I saw so many people saying “it makes you think”
  2. I love black girl fantasies

So, I ordered a copy from Amazon and dove into it.

Spoiler-Free Review:

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. She was born unique in a world of sameness where people — the Gris — lack color. Not only that though, she is also born with the ability to change the gray and ugly Gris into people of beauty and uniqueness. She and her five sisters, Amber, Padma, Valerie, Hana, and Edel are entering into their time of service to the kingdom, but only one of them can be chosen as the the queen’s Belle — the “favorite”. The Belle chosen as the “favorite” will live in the palace, work with the queen to pass beauty laws, and do beauty work for the princess and the rest of the royal court.

Of the sisters, Amber and Camille are the only ones in true competition with each other to be the “favorite” — they don’t see their other sisters as a challenge for the position. They are also the two closest to each other, but after a “favorite” is chosen, they begin to realize how little they truly know about the kingdom and the royals — the princesses in particular. The story follows Camille as she learns the truth about what it truly means to be a Belle among the Gris.

I enjoyed the book overall, but it was difficult for me to get into it. The book explores the concept of “what would you do / give / endure to be beautiful”. The way this concept is explored does make you think, so I will say that I agree with most the other people who say that same thing. This book comes across light-hearted at first: a bright cover, a carnival in the beginning, beautiful and magical girls named after flowers, sisterly competition — but as the story goes on, it explores deeper and darker concepts. It’s a coming of age story in a lot of ways, but it also raises questions and scenarios that still made me think and question things as an adult. So, that said, I think it’s a good read.

I had trouble getting into it because it is EXCEPTIONALLY detailed. Every scene has colors and smells and food and people and, at times, I felt it to be overwhelming. It took me from the story on more than one occasion and I found myself digging through the details to find the actual plot / action of whatever was happening. Now, this is purely a personal thing — I’m not the type of person who gets excited from pages of details, however, as the reader you do get a crystal clear understanding of the world Camille is in.

The world in this book is bright, it’s sweet smelling, it’s frilly, it’s a kingdom with rich foods and richer people. Every dress that Camille wears is described in detail, every room is described as if entering it is a new experience, every person is described from head to toe. If that is what you enjoy, then that’s great! I am not one of those people and that is the sole reason I found this story difficult to get into.

I will say this though — despite not being big on details and heavy descriptions, once I was into the story, I didn’t want to put it down.

If the sheer amount of details don’t deter you, I would recommend this book if you enjoy beautiful fantasy worlds, girls with magic, a bright kingdom with dark secrets, and a twisted princess. The book makes you wonder what it would means to truly be beautiful in a world where beauty can be bought.

Spoilers after this! If you haven’t read the book, now would be a good place to stop.

Of the characters, Camille was probably one of my least favorite ones. The reason I say this is because she makes impulsive decisions without thinking of the consequences for her or anyone else. There are too many times she does this to count, but when she does beauty work on Bree, her assigned servant, and gives her a dimple like her own, that was completely reckless. Prior to doing that, Bree told her that the princess Sophia killed a servant for being too pretty. Sure, Sophia is certifiably crazy, but this grated against me like nails on a chalkboard when I read it. Bree didn’t ask for the beauty treatment — Camille forced it on her and then put her life in jeopardy for a fleeting thought. She’s incredibly selfish and thoughtless when it comes to others in my opinion.

Other dumb things she does:

  1. She shoots off her mouth to Auguste — who I pegged as dangerous and untrustworthy from the beginning.
  2. She doesn’t listen to Ivy when she tries to warn her of the things going on in the castle.
  3. She is constantly running off and trying to shake Rémy — the only one in the castle who was loyal to her in the end.
    • Side note: I was never team Auguste — I was team Rémy from the time he got introduced into the story. Feels good to know I was right!
  4. She is constantly pushing her arcana too far — Du Barry wasn’t great but she clearly had her reasons for instructing them to keep some parts of the arcana secret.
I usually read my copy of the book with a cup of coffee. You can see this and other pics I take on Instagram @CBensonWrite

The only person I disliked more than Camille was Amber because she thought she was entitled to be the “favorite”. She also got her feelings hurt when they replaced her after she refused to listen to Sophia’s orders (again, she’s crazy, but still — there are always consequences to disobedience) and they replaced her with Camille. Of course Camille enjoyed being in the castle! Anyone would — it’s a luxury and comes with the fame and prominence of being the “favorite”.

I got the impression that Amber was only chosen because Du Barry was mad that Camille didn’t stay in the box she’d designated for her — she couldn’t control Camille like she could Amber — but then she acted like she had done something special when she was chosen. The most hideous thing is when they killed Claudine because Amber was OBSESSED with proving she was better than Camille — she didn’t even care about the girl’s pain or Camille’s pleading with her to stop.

Amber is unstable and I hated that she was so weak in her thoughts and actions and willpower.

The only Belle that I liked was Edel. Edel was a rebel and she saw through the sham and didn’t buy into any of it and escaped the first moment she could. I honestly feel the story would have been much more interesting told from Edel’s perspective — she didn’t want to the “favorite” or a Belle at all, she didn’t like Amber’s constant adherence to the rules and uppity attitude, she didn’t buy into the lies Du Barry spilled, and she had no desire to be worked like a dog till the end of her days for the sake of the Gris. She was her own person.

The cover of The Everlasting Rose.

The strong opinions I have for the characters though show that they were well written and full of personality. The story itself is engaging — you want to know what’s going to happen. Despite Camille’s flaws, she did have some redeeming traits: she loved and respected all of her sisters, she tried to be thoughtful (even though it came across as careless to me), she cares about people, she tries to do what’s right when put in tough situations, and she didn’t think she was better than anyone else — she just wanted to be noticed for what she could do. She was just a sheltered teenager — they all were — so she was naive and selfish and acted accordingly.

The whole vibe of this book reminded me of The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, so maybe that’s why I would have preferred Edel’s outlook. I’m drawn more to the rebel who left than the girl who stayed and adhered to the system. However, this story is unique and thought-provoking and worth picking up or gifting to anyone who likes to think and question society.

The sequel to The Belles is out and it’s called The Everlasting Rose. Considering where The Belles leaves off, I will definitely be picking up a copy soon. You can grab copies from Bookshop or Amazon.

That’s my two cents on this book — spend it how you like!

Until next time, may your days be lovely and your books interesting.

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