This book has made so much noise from the start of the year that I had to see what all the fuss was about. I spotted it on Booktube channels, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as being the next big read. The Belles looks at the world of Orléans, and how it is controlled by beauty. The people of Orléans are born grey and need the talent of the Belles to transform their beauty and follow the latest trend. The story centres around Camellia, a Belle who wants to change people’s perceptions of beauty but to do that she needs to become the favourite and serve in the Royal Court where she will have power and influence working alongside the Queen. To get there she has to compete against her fellow Belles and sisters but once the competition begins she starts to wonder if being the favourite is not what she’d hoped and she quickly learns that the palace holds a dark secret.
It took me a while to get into this book as the first part surrounding the competition is quite long but once the plot gets to the palace the plot quickens. The world of Orléans is interesting and it’s easy to draw comparisons with New Orléans. From the description in the book I imagine Orléans as a group of islands rather than a landlocked kingdom but there are definite comparisons taking into account the quartiers and the Belle’s power, their arcana.
I liked the premise of this plot and how beauty controls a civilisation and yet how it needs so many rules to control the boundaries of beauty. It’s an interesting idea with a reflection on society today, although the time period isn’t mentioned in the book. Orléans seem to reflect a time in history a few hundred years ago with corsets, balls and sailing. In contrast there are teacup pets such as elephants, dragons and monkeys not to mention Belles so it’s a strange dystopian world with so many comparisons to our society. There are also LGBTQ+ references between characters and in particular the Queen who has a female lover. However I did find it a bit irritating that two of the most prominent LGBTQ+ characters don’t have a future in the plot which you will understand if you read the book.
I enjoyed learning about the Belles in the run up to the competition and each of their personalities. Camellia was irritating at the start as she wanted to be named the favourite so badly but as the book progressed her arrogance gave way to independence and strength. I found Amber irritating as well but I did like Edel and was happy to see her part didn’t end in the opening chapters and the competition. Yet for each of the girls to have different personalities it brings more to the plot and makes the competition more interesting.
I didn’t particularly find this book a quick read until over half way through it so I would say if you want to read it you’ll need to dedicate some time to it. It is worth reading because as the story develops it becomes very interesting and you delve into the history of the Belles and how they possess their powers. The last thing I want to mention is that this is not a standalone novel as I originally thought it was so be prepared for an ending that leaves you wanting more.
I gave The Belles a 4 out of 5 stars but if I’m honest I struggled between giving the book a 3 or a 4 star rating. I enjoyed it’s individuality but felt the book wasn’t as strong as it could have been. I’m still looking forward to the next book being released and would definitely recommend checking this book out.