The Belles is the type of book that will sink it’s teeth into you without you ever noticing. The opening scene sets the stage for this lush & colorful world, leaving you hypnotized by all Orléans has to offer. The Belles are introduced to us readers & the royal court on their 16th birthday. Beautiful carriages stream in one by one, each carrying a Belle named after a specific flower. Each one will be introduced to the royal family & each one will hope to be chosen as the “Favorite.” The Favorite will solely tend to the needs of the royal family while the others are assigned to the different tea houses in the land where they will provide a service. Born with a special gift, The Belles are the only ones that can bring beauty to a otherwise gray world & people. Their services are sought out by the wealthy who can afford to pay the hefty price for beauty.
“Belles are the descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, blessed with the Arcana to enhance the world and rescue the people of Orléans”
We are introduced to our MC Camellia Beauregard whose mother once was the Royal family’s Favorite, and whose footsteps she hopes to follow. Camellia & her sisters are recieved by the court with great celebration, a vote will be cast for the Favorite. Camellia wants the coveted position of Favorite more than anything in the world but so does her closest sister Ambrosia. Both Camellia & Ambrosia have shown great skill with their power called the Arcana, a power that is not without it’s consequences if misused. The Royal family is hiding many secrets & The Belles are unfortunately pawns used to maintain appearances. The Favorite will find herself pushing the limits of the Arcana at the risk of her own destruction. Filled with plot twists and political intrigue, this book had me on my toes trying to figure out the next move in the game.
“Always remember that emotions are tethered to the blood, and the blood is where your gifts are. Any excess passion can cause contamination and too much pressure. It can damage the Arcana. I cannot stress this enough.”
We’re introduced to Camellia, Ambrosia, Edelweiss, Padma, Valeria, and Hana on their 16th birthday. Although each one doesn’t get a ton of page time, their personalities definitely jumped off the page, some more than others. The MC Camellia has a reputation for being a rebel & going against the rules set for The Belles, she’s very unpredictable. Camellia wants nothing more than to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she is ambitious & confident in her Arcana. I enjoyed meeting a MC who walked into the story with confidence & determination, she refused to allow self doubt to creep in. Camellia’s only real competition is Ambrosia who she is most closest to having been raised together by their Mamans aka Mothers. The Belles for the most part get along well & treat each other like sisters. They’ve been raised together since infancy & so we see the typical sibling rivalry take place but none as complicated as Camellia & Ambrosia’s relationship. They cheer each other on & look-out for one another but they both desire a position only one can hold.
Edelweiss is probably my most favorite besides Camellia, she cares not for being a Belle & would much rather see the world. We see Edelweiss often challenge Madame Du Barry who is head of their house & responsible for their training. I really enjoyed seeing how far Edelweiss would push the limits, very outspoken & quick to set any of her sisters straight, she quickly became one of my favorite characters in this book. There is one other supporting character that deserves mention, Rémy who is assigned to protect & watch over Camellia. Although there is no romance between Camellia & Rémy in this book, there is some budding chemistry between the two. Rémy is loyal, the kind of guy who is hard on the exterior but mush for those he loves. I appreciated that he wasn’t made out to be some raging jealous guy once he saw Camellia’s actual “love interest” come around, he respected her space.
The villain…cause it wouldn’t be a Fantastical world without one amiright?!?! Ha! Princess Sophia, daughter to the Queen & King of Orléans will make anyone’s blood go cold just by looking their way. Cruel, Vain, implacable, and unpredictable. She’s also one of the smartest villains I’ve met in YA Fantasy, always ten steps ahead of the game. She is calculating & mainpulative & many times left me asking myself “does she know?” Princess Sophia plays her cards close to her chest & what she does and doesn’t know is a source of tension for both the reader and those in her court.
WRITING & FINAL THOUGHTS
The first impression I got when I read the first page of this book was beauty would be splattered everywhere!!! In the fashion, foods, and streets of Orléans and that it was! giving off Hunger Games Capital vibes, you are sucked into the MOST colorful & opulent world guaranteed to leave you eyeing the closest pastry shop. The world building was A+ but perhaps my only complaint is that the magic system isn’t throughly broken down early on. This book is quite hefty and that means that for the first half you are only holding certain pieces of knowledge on the way things work with The Belles. We know that their treatments are temporary fixes & that only the wealthy can really afford them & the maintenance that goes along with it. The consequences of pushing the limits however, isn’t disclosed in the first half of the book. It wasn’t too complex of a system at all to understand, I just wish we had been given more of it towards the beginning. There is a TON of information that is revealed towards the end, the second half of the book is absolutely much faster paced than the first. That being said, I cannot deny the lure of this world & how I couldn’t put the book down for long. The rich color palette encompassing all skin colors/tones used by the Belles to treat the Gray, signified the lack of racism in this book. However, classism is well & alive in The Belles where only the wealthy can afford to receive treatments while the less fortunate walk around Gray & drained of life. There are also three characters from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, one who is Bi-sexual & the other two are Lesbian (won’t say who cause spoilers). Orléans is a world where LBTQIA+ and people of color live well among others without discrimination. I LOVED the commentary on beauty & societal standards this book brings to the forefront! Camellia loves being a Belle & bringing color to peoples lives but then there are those who are never satisfied…