The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

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Book Review

Title: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Rating: 1280px-5_stars.svg

Review: After hearing so many good things about the Belles in the past year I finally decided to pick it up. The opening introduces us to Camellia, who is a Belle. Belles can control beauty and she is one of only six Belles in the current generation. These Belles have been chosen to travel to the Imperial Island to compete to become the Belle of the royal family. We can already see there is going to be a large fantasy element alongside a very unique magic system. Each Belle is given a subject to work on, in Camellia’s case it is a young girl. They are going to use their arcana (their magic) on the subjects and transform their appearance, however, the transformations don’t last very long. In this world, the people were cursed with a horrific appearance, gray skin with red eyes and straw-like hair, which is why Belles are needed. The Belles have less than a day before the Queen decides who she wants to be the Belle to her family, the favourite and Camellia is determined to be that Belle.

The six Belles have been trained all their lives for this day and despite not being blood-related they were raised as sisters. Camellia is closest to Amber, but Amber’s desire to follow the rules and her ruthless desire to be the favourite is driving a wedge between them and Amber seems especially vindictive. After their performances both Camellia and Edel are going to be spoken to be Du Barry – the woman who has been training them alongside their mothers – before the favourite is announced possibly to be reprimanded for not following the rules. We are beginning to understand some of the cultures as Camellia has attracted the attention of the Minister of Sea’s son, but it is a crime for men to be anywhere near a Belle when not receiving treatment. We also learn that the Belles aren’t allowed to date or marry, and most are raised to be scared of men. As Camellia is the protagonist, I was expecting her to be named the favourite, so I was shocked to learn that Amber was chosen, and the threat Camellia received earlier makes me think that this contest was anything but honest.

Camellia is relegated to one of the teahouses and all of her dreams go up in smoke as they relied on her being named as the Queen’s favourite. Camellia arrives at her new home but is so disappointed in herself, but we know from her debut that the Belle’s arcana work is painful but seeing Camellia work on a young girl against her will while she screams, her own mother pinning her down and threatening to kill her pet if she doesn’t comply was disgusting and reminded me a lot of Marielle’s working from the Nevernight Chronicles. When Camellia learns there are other Belles in her teahouse, she thinks it is one of the older sisters but the girl she sees she doesn’t know, and Camellia knows all of the living Belles. Instantly suspicious she asks her friend Bree to help her investigate.

Things take an even stranger turn when Camellia is summoned back to the Imperial Island to replace Amber as the favourite which has never happened before, but this coupled with the mysterious Belle in the teahouse is making Camellia very suspicious about what is really going on. When Camellia meets Princess Sophia for the first time, she really gives me the creeps and the fact she states that she wanted Camellia from the beginning, but her mother choose Amber because she was a safe choice but couldn’t give Sophia what she wanted but she knows Camellia can strikes me as odd. Sophia has already been shown to have mood swings and often treats her staff as toys she can play with until they break.

As we approach the halfway mark in the novel, Camellia is settling into her role as Sophia’s Belle, but she meets Auguste along the way (again) and I can literally smell a romance coming between them. It was surprising to see Camellia discover the fact that Sophia is having a relationship with a man far below her own station. It seems that court life is going to be a lot more dramatic and dangerous than Camellia first thought, but she is thriving. When her beauty treatments begin, we can see Camellia is pushing herself to the limit in order to prove that she should have been the favourite from the beginning and her most demanding client is the Princess herself. Camellia also learns that Auguste is one of Sophia’s suitors and has no business even looking at him, but her guard Remy also proves to be interesting and would be a good match for Camellia. We also learn things aren’t going well for her sisters especially Edel who is planning to run away from the Fire Teahouse as she can’t cope being worked day and night. Camellia has also been on edge since she found her mother’s Belle book which should have been burnt alongside her body, but she hid it away to prepare her daughter for life at the Royal court.

As we cross into the second half of the novel, Camellia is struggling to meet the demand of the court to look beautiful, but she continues to push her arcana further than she ever has before. When the Queen announces a meeting of the court to decide Sophia’s wedding look and the look she will wear for the rest of her life as tradition demands. However, Sophia seems to have a dark side as she has discovered the secret of the Belle’s blood and begins to experiment with it and her obsession is taking hold of her and may drive her mad, but Camellia seems to keep her calm as she does exactly what Sophia asks of her within reason. Camellia also has to deal with her growing feelings for both Remy and Auguste despite the fact that both of them are completely off-limits because she is a Belle. She is also still trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the other Belles and her sisters.

As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel, Camellia is really pushing the boundaries with the laws in regard to men, but no one has commented on it because she has pleased Sophia and the court with her wedding design/look, and she is proving to be extremely popular with the court. I can’t shake the feeling though that something very bad is going to happen soon as there is still no word from Edel and the rumour that she did run away is getting stronger every day putting more and more pressure on Camellia to find or contact her. As Sophia demands more horrific things from Camellia, she decides it will be better to help the Queen try and awaken Princess Charlotte, so she takes the throne instead of Sophia even if it kills her. Sophia seems to be on to Camellia testing her loyalty and destroying her mother’s Belle book and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sophia had something to do with Charlotte’s illness as well but there are only days until the Queen has to announce that she is sick and name her successor to the throne. Meanwhile Camellia is collecting allies at court and she is also collecting quite a few secrets, but she has been warned to be extremely careful about Sophia as if she gets rid of Camellia the way she did to Amber then she will just select another sister and Camellia is determined to protect them even Edel who is in hiding. As Sophia its more pressure on Camellia she isn’t sure what she should do, and she can’t really turn to anyone for advice and things don’t get any better when she visits Amber’s teahouse to find her sister missing and deformed Belles being hidden away. She has learned from the history books that deformed or defective Belles were common back then and only viable Belles were trained for the debut.

As we cross into the final section of the novel, so much happens that just took my breath away. While Camellia manages to escape the Royal court she is betrayed, rescued and given a plan to stop this horrendous plot once and for all. While I can’t talk much about the final 100 pages this book is definitely worth picking up and I will be reading the everlasting rose as soon as I can. Highly recommend and a definite 5* read.

Buy it here:

Paperback/Hardcover: amazon.co.uk      amazon.com

Kindle Edition: amazon.co.uk       amazon.com

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