My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I recieved an e-ARC of this book to read via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
“The Belles” has one of the most interesting concepts I’ve seen in YA sci-fi/fantasy fiction for a long time. Set in the grandiose world of Orléans, The Belles are the only people born with beauty, and the power to give others beauty, in a society of people who are born with gray skin, ashy hair and red eyes. Once the Belle’s arrive at court they are embroiled in the dark secrets and plots of the Royal family and their courtiers.
As the first in what will be a series of books, “The Belles” had a lot of world building to do. Dhonielle Clayton takes no shortcuts in introducing the reader to the world she has created and the Belle sisters and why they are special and their function in society. The writing is incredibly descriptive and inventive. The world of Orléans seems to borrow heavily from the French renaissiance period with steampunk influences (e.g. the post-balloons) and is just full of rich characters and opulent settings which lend themselves to no end of descriptive writing.
Obviously one of the main plot points of the book is that most of the characters appearances change regularly within the book and I found that quite difficult to keep track of. I found it confusing to keep characters in my head and almost impossible to imagine how the Belle’s were making their beauty changes. It felt so unnatural to keep imagining people changing things that in our society are so piviotal to who somebody is and how you recognise them, e.g. skin colour, bone structure and body shape. However, as I got to the halfway point in the book the story just swept me along and although I didn’t have a strong image in my head of each character I managed just fine.
The last 100 pages of “The Belles” were breathtaking. The pace of the action was fantastic and I liked that it didn’t follow the usual YA sci-fi/fantasy tropes. The first half of the book hints at the darkness to come, but when the secrets start to unravel the plot gets more and more threatening and becomes far more twisted than I ever would have expected when picking up the book.
I feel like this book has done a wonderful job of building the world and introducing the characters and I can’t wait to continue the series and hopefully get to know the other Belle’s more and see how the plot develops.