Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
I received an ARC of each book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Set in the fictional world of Orléans, a small number of girls are born with the ability to use magic to create beautiful looks for a dull general population. Camellia and her sister, known as the Belles, have trained their entire lives to be chosen as the Queen’s favourite and responsible for keeping the royal family beautiful.
The world of Orléans is beautiful, a decadent society with a darker history. Everyone is born grey, and it’s the role of the Belles to bring beauty, but it comes with a price. This book is jam-packed with sweet descriptions of a seemly beautiful world until the ugliness leaks out as the story goes on. Clayton’s Orléans is unique and thrilling; while it took a while for it to grip me at first, the ending is where it gets horrific and exciting. A fantasy world means there’s a lot to set up, but once the significant event starts happening, the pace improved.
I enjoyed the cast of characters and how each band of them interacted with Camellia. Her sweet yet competitive relationship with her sisters, the other Belles, contrasted well with the interactions with the much colder and stricter higher authorities of Orléans. There are the beginnings of a kick-ass girl group in the makings here, but I would’ve loved more development on the other Belles with Camellia since they’re quietly placed out of the main storyline entirely very early on in the story. I guess Clayton intends to bring them back in the sequel, hopefully, more in the forefront of the plot. The antagonist in this is perfect, so dark and cruel, and I indeed hadn’t anticipated it would’ve been them at the beginning.
The weakest part of this whole book was the romance. It had a critical moment in the plot, but the rest of it didn’t feel very strong, in comparison to the rest of the novel. There wasn’t really anything to root for, and I found myself wanting to skip their scenes to get to better and more interesting sections. And the beginning didn’t entice me as much as I thought it would, but towards the end, I did find myself pulled in.
Overall, The Belles was an original story that was fun to read. If you need a dark fantasy novel to read, I can suggest this!
tw: Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity has a detailed list of trigger warning (and a good review!) if you’re interested in reading this book.