Friday, March 23, 2018

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Camellia is excited that she is finally part of the group being sent to the palace to take over Belle duties.   In Orleans, everyone other than a Belle is born with grey skin and red eyes.  The Belles have the special abilities and talents to alter a person's appearance in any way to make him or her beautiful.  During the upcoming ceremony, one of the Belles will be chosen as the Favorite.  Camellia is so sure she will be the Favorite that it is a huge shock when her closest friend is chosen instead. Camellia is sent to a nearby teahouse where she learns that the life of a Belle is not as glamorous as she had imagined and that there are some secrets being kept from her.  She is further surprised when she receives an invitation to come back to the palace and finds out she is replacing Amber as the Favorite.  No one can give her an explanation of what happened to her friend but the more time she spends with the princess, the more she begins to suspect that something nefarious has taken place.  And when the queen makes a proposal to her, Camellia finds herself stuck in a dangerous position.

I have really been dragging my feet on getting this review written mostly because I had such high expectations for it but ended up being quite disappointed.  I'll start with the few things I liked.
  • The setting is lush and so easily visualized thanks to the descriptive language.
  • The premise is unique
  • The references to several fairy/folk tales made me feel like I was really clever when I connected the dots and figured out the subtext.
  • I found myself imagining what it would be like to be able to alter your appearance so radically fairly easily (although painfully, apparently).
  • The deeper subtexts of the desire for beauty at all costs AND the enslavement of people and their differing stations depending on how useful they are to the people in charge.
Now on to the issues I have with The Belles.
  • Yes, the language is descriptive but it was overly so for me and began to feel like padding.  I found it over the top and then, annoying.
  • I could not get invested in any of the characters.  Camellia was not a great friend to Amber and she was not all the swift when it came to figuring out what was happening in the palace nor in making a decision about her course of action.  I wanted a stronger protagonist, someone I could root for.  Whatever sort of feeling I was having for her was then permanently squashed when she and Amber used their Belle powers in a competition with disastrous results.  I think I was supposed to be mad at the person who set up this situation, but Camellia knew the score by then and still played along.  But then was shocked by the results.
  • The villain was too much for me for too long.  Her sadism was clearly illustrated  and then it was shown again with another horrible scene.  And then another.  I get it already.  It reminded me of Ramses Bolton on Game of Thrones and Ramses was the character that almost made me stop watching because I didn't need to see more horrors to understand that he's a bad dude.  
  • The plot "twists" were not so twisty for me, especially the revelation at the end about the elder princess.  That just made me angry that no one had ever thought to check on that before because, come on!!
So, overall, a book I couldn't wait to get but that turned out to be a disappointment for me.  That's always a sad turn of events.

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