Dhonielle Clayton's novel, The Belles, takes place in a fantastical world with a diverse group of characters. The setting is the magnificent Kingdom of Orleans -- made up of distinctive isles and islands surrounding the main Imperial Island where the majority of the story takes place. From the first chapter, readers are immersed in Clayton's superb world-building and gorgeous prose. We can see, hear, smell and taste (at least, in our imaginations) everything. The archipelago is filled with vibrant clothes, creative objects and gadgets, and fascinating people.
The protagonist is Camellia Beauregard. She's instantly likeable. Through her arcana she controls beauty. She is a Belle. One of six other young women who will be chosen to be the Queen's favorite. The Belle will live in the royal palace and attend to the beauty regimens of the royal family and court. But this position is not what it seems. Dangerous secrets lurk beneath the royal facade and the kingdom. Camellia soon discovers how far people will go to be beautiful...and the price they pay. I quickly turned the pages to find out what happens next.
The novel has a touch of romance but it doesn't overpower the story. Instead, The Belles focuses on sisterhood, friendship and family. There's also a special note, from Clayton, explaining her journey of writing the book and why she did so. I'm looking forward to the second book!