Ah, jeez, I feel like a total asshole criticizing this book but I got so huffily mad reading it. So much of this book, like over 70% is really terrific and smart and interesting and fun but the other 20-odd just made me want to break my Kindle, it was so dumb.
First, that cover is gorgeous, and a large part of why I wanted to read this book. The premise is amazing, and I was touched by Dhonielle Clayton’s afterword (even if I’m one of those people who is still impatient at those who care too much about the opinions of others. I can understand how that can traumatize you as a young person, tho.) The first twelve percent of the book was a pretty tough slog for me as a reader, however. It was wildly over-written, with the worst part being food metaphors littering each page like bushels of overripe fruit. But once the Belles completed the selection process, it became a lot easier to read.
Camille, our heroine, grew up sheltered and with one purpose alone: to bring beauty to the realm of Orleans by using her innate arcana to magically change the inhabitants from their natural forms (grey, wrinkled skin; colorless hair like straw; blood-red eyes, and filled with a sadness that inevitably turns to madness) into beautiful, happy people. Orleans is a kingdom obsessed with beauty, no matter how expensive, no matter how painful, and as Camille makes her debut into society and becomes entangled in royal intrigues, she discovers that beauty in Orleans can exact a higher price than anyone should be willing to pay.
Cool premise, right? And after that over-stuffed first 12%, everything is pretty good, even if there are certain tiresome YA tropes that rear their daft heads. Camille makes some poor decisions, understandable since she grew up so sheltered, and her love triangle is dumb as hell. But then the climactic scene with Claudine happens about 90% of the way through and I was so thoroughly irritated by a) how absolutely ridiculous Amber was, and b) how there were no safeguards for the Belles considering they’re hovered over and narrowly regulated everywhere and any time else. And when the truth about Princess Charlotte was revealed, I literally wanted to slap everyone for being too stupid to live. Generously, one could consider these scenes under-written: perhaps if more had been written of the feelings and reasonings involved, it would all seem less idiotic, but honestly, it just strained the bounds of credulity too much to enjoy. I didn’t even need more words so much as I needed more world-building.
So I kinda want to read the next book to see what happens, but I’m already inwardly cringing away from whatever dumb shit happens to mar my enjoyment of what is a genuinely interesting setting which raises some very worthwhile questions regarding the commodification of beauty and how far people will go to attain it. I’m also curious regarding the mythology of Orleans and why the people are as they are (nuclear disaster, perhaps?) I guess Ms Clayton has me for at least one more book: I only hope it’s more like the awesome 70+% than the incredibly awful 20+% of this one.