Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever
Did I read a different book from everyone else? It’s kind of a miracle that I finished this book because I just didn’t careabout anything that was going on. The world was too ridiculous for me to believe it, I didn’t like the main character, and the plot didn’t have enough going for it to make me want to keep reading. (And also the Bury Your Gays trope makes an appearance, so… yeah.)
My biggest problem was with the worldbuilding. I really didn’t like it. I read the author’s note and I understand what she was going for, but I just don’t think she executed it well. All the important government ministers are in charge of things like beauty or fashion or hairstyle. Even in an appearance-obsessed society, you can’t have all the government officials only be in charge of what nose shape is going to be in for the spring. It’s just not feasible! You need people regulating farming and food production, the military, actual necessary things as well as how big powder puffs should be. I could not believe the world because the details of how it actually runs were never really addressed.
Compare it to the Hunger Games series. They both deal with superficial, beauty-obsessed societies, but Suzanne Collins built a world where you understand how this ridiculous materialistic way of life can exist without it being consumed by the sort of chaos usually reserved for a Sephora VIB sale. There is no hint of the hidden machinery that makes Orléans run and it made it impossible for me to buy it.
The other thing that really annoyed me was the gratuitous French. Why is there random French? Is this a future version of our world? Is this kingdom’s language just supposed to be French? Then why are some words translated and some not? Or are they speaking English but just being pretentious assholes? One of my biggest bookish pet peeves is whenever an author tacks on a few words in another language to make the character sound… bilingual? I honestly don’t know what they’re going for.
The French felt like the author had just run a few words and phrases through Google translate. The genders of nouns and adjectives didn’t always agree and some of the wording was a little strange. Someone is referred to as ma petit a few times, even though it should be either mon petit and the character should be male or ma petite, with everything agreeing. Reading it is like having an itch I can’t scratch.
Although, to be fair, a decent amount of the English wording was also a little strange. I often found the dialogue somewhat stilted. For example, at one point, one character says to another character that
[Character 2] has to join the glorious conversation.
She could have just said come and talk with us. But she didn’t. Who refers to their own conversations as glorious on an every day basis? And this is just one example. (If only I had taken more notes.)
I also found the main character to be shallow, not the most intelligent, and very passive. I know part of that is probably intentional and she’ll change more over the course of the series, but she never changed enough over the course of the book to make her likeable. (At least to me.) The romance was also dull and passionless. I was the complete opposite of invested.
I actually felt pretty bad when I read the author’s note after the book. A lot of what she says in that (about the standards we hold women to, how their beauty is prioritized over their brains, and her hope that black girls see themselves in her story) is very true and things that the publishing world and the world beyond should be talking about and addressing. But that doesn’t change the fact that I found The Belles to be as hollow, lifeless, and devoid of the beauty nobody in the story can shut up about.