THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton
This is such a hard review for me to write. This book was such a hard book to pin down. I loved the first, like, 280 pages. And then the other 100 or so pages I was... wary? I can't think of a better word to describe my feelings while reading in the last hundred pages or so.
The Belles is so hard for me to wrestle with because I feel like it is a good book. It kept me hooked to the end and had some real twists and turns. It just... wasn't for me once we hit the endgame, I suppose. And once you hit the last 100 pages, you hit the endgame FAST.
That all being said, I am issuing a heavy trigger warning for this book. Be ready going into it for: torture, un-consensual body modifications, on-page death, and the "bury your gays" trope.
The plot is what truly drew me into this book. A book where beauty is controlled by a specific group of people, called Belles? A look into the commodification of beauty? Political intrigue? Sign me up.
The thing is, this book holds so much more than that. I went into it thinking it was more a fantasy kind of world when, in reality, this book was a kind of beauty dystopia - heavy sci-fi influences while also having a unique world based on New Orleans. There was so much stuff going on in this book, but most of it focused on discovering the secrets of the Belles. And also wondering what was wrong with Princess Charlotte and what was wrong with Princess Sophia.
This isn't technically format, more like prose, but I'm making it work. If you don't enjoy a lot of descriptions and flowery language, this book is not for you. While I personally loved how descriptive it was, even I got tired of how often almost everything was compared to food. If you read this book, be prepared for food descriptors, and a lot of them.
Camellia: Known as Camille to most, she is the main character of The Belles and is, of course, a Belle. She starts out super naive and progresses through the story slowly, learning things at her own pace. By the end of the book, her rose-tinted glasses have been shattered. She goes through a lot in this book, not a lot of it pleasant. But I really enjoyed getting to know her and her sassy personality, loyalty to her sisters, and strong sense of what was right and wrong. Even when that moral compass was wrong - she adjusted it accordingly and kept moving forward as best she could.
Bree: Bree isn't technically a big character - she is merely Camille's lady in waiting and close confidant. But I adored Bree and her loyalty to Camille and I wanted to give her a shout-out.
Princess Sophia: Sophia is the second born princess of the country and is obsessed with beauty. She wants to be the most beautiful person in all of Orléans. And she is also kind of insane. She is very temperamental and two-faced and is not above killing to get what she wants. She is kind of a stereotypical, completely irredeemable villain, but is also completely terrifying. At least, to me she was.
There were a lot of other characters in this book: Auguste, Rémy, Amber, Ivy, and Arabella to name just a few. But Camille and Sophia are the really big ones, I feel.
This book is pretty slow for the most part. Flowery language tends to slow down the pace of a book and The Belles is no different in this aspect. But, once we get to the last hundred pages or so (the parts that made me wary) things pick up speed very quickly. In fact, it kind of felt like part of my problem with the endgame of the book was how fast it went from fairly tame to very dark in such a short period of time. And once it got dark, it got fast, and it was like boom, boom, boom. Bad thing after bad thing after bad thing.
This book is so hard for me to rate. If I was just judging it on the first 280 pages, as I said, I would give it four or maybe even five stars. But it got too dark too quickly for my tastes. Because of this, my opinion of the book lowered and I don't think I'll pick it up again. In fact, I don't think I'll even read the sequel, despite the many unanswered questions left at the end of this book. Again, I think this is a good book. Just, maybe not for me.