"The Belles" is a fantastic YA fantasy, taking place in the kingdom of Orleans. Legend has it that the goddess of beauty once walked among her children, but when her husband, the God of the Sky, was unable to keep her attention/get her away from her children, he cursed her children to be ugly with gray skin, red eyes, and straw hair. In return, she created the Belles to walk the earth in her stead and create beauty. The Belles themselves are beautiful in many different ways and do not need treatments to remain so. They have arcana running through their veins that allows them to transform the people of Orleans into something beautiful. However, this wears off after some time, and so the people need constant treatments.
The book begins with one of the six Belles of the year, Camellia, who is competing with her sisters to become the Queen's Favorite. The favorite not only works with the royals to maintain their looks, but sets fashion/beauty trends and beauty laws (what you are allowed or not allowed to do with your look). The rest will be send to teahouses to work on the people on the different islands/areas of Orleans. All of the Belles yearn to be the favorite- but the competition will determine who wins. As you know from the synopsis, although not initially chosen to be the favorite, Camellia does eventually become the favorite and faces more than she ever could have bargained for- she is faced with the truth of the Belles and the ugliness of people- despite outward appearances.
I was absolutely enthralled with this book from the start- it grabs you and pulls you in, and the pace never slows down enough to lose your attention. This will be a book you'll stay up all night reading! Camellia was an interesting character- we follow her in first person perspective, but she's not perfect and her flaws make her so much more real. The book raises interesting questions about power and the weight that humanity places on beauty/appearance. It is really so much more than it seems at first glance.
I highly recommend this book to older YA readers- I might have younger ones sit it out for some content which may be appropriate for older readers, including death, attempted rape, and slavery. There is also some romance that felt extremely awkward, but it does become clearer towards the end. Camellia also feels very young at times, but I think this was due to her extremely sheltered upbringing and did make sense for her character. I am really curious to see where this series will go- it's quite unique and I absolutely loved it! For people who might want to know, it does end with a bit of a cliffhanger, so you'll definitely be aching for the next book in the series! This is a must-watch debut author whose books I would love to continue to read!
Please note that I received a book from the publisher through bookish first. All opinions are my own.