The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (book review).

May 31, 2018 | By | Reply More

‘The Belles’ is book one in a new young adult series by Dhonielle Clayton.

Once upon a time there was a world where everyone was happy and beautiful. This is not that world. In this world, everyone apart from a very select few are born with grey skin and hair, and red eyes but they all want to be beautiful and they will do anything to get what they want. A handful of girls each year are born with incredible beauty and the magical ability to bring beauty both inside and out to others. From these girls, just one each year is selected to work on the royal family, a highly coveted job for which there is a lot of competition and Camellia wants that job. But, if she gets it, will it be everything she dreamed or just one terrifying nightmare? While everyone is trying their best to be beautiful, there are some very dark secrets hiding behind the palace walls.

Everyone in this book is obsessed with becoming beautiful but the styles seem to change every day, so everyone is constantly chasing an ideal that they don’t even know about yet. They all change everything from their eye colour, skin colour, body shape to their personality traits, but it all causes pain to them and everything will eventually revert back to grey.

All the descriptions of the beautiful traits seem to be related to a food of some kind or another, so you will get hungry reading this book. Oh and all their pets are teacup-sized, not just dogs but elephants as well. I’m assuming this is some kind of genetic engineering as they never seem to be touched by the Belles. I’m not sure why all the animals are so small, maybe for cuteness or just portability?

There is such a void between the beauty that is all around the Belles, everything is just so gorgeous and dreamlike. But then we read a scene where a mother is bringing in her 5 year-old child to be worked on knowing that it will cause her pain and who really does not want the work. The mother wants her child to fit in and be beautiful, so she takes her to the Belles and, describes in front of her, as being an absolute disaster and needing her whole face redone. This is the darker side of the story and it really upset me in places but, then given the reasons why Dhonielle wrote this book, it does make sense.

Talking of the pain everyone goes through to become beautiful, there are some particularly awful scenes where the Belles are using their Arcana (magical abilities) and people are almost screaming with the pain or passing out. One part of the book in particular is horrifying in the descriptions. After all this pain, the traits the Belles have given you will only last around one month and you have to raise the funds to go under their hands again. All for a certain colour eyes or the ability to sing like a lark. I’m not sure that I would go through all this just for one month, but then the people do seem really unhappy with their natural state.

This is not a fast-paced book by any means, there is a lot of description especially in the first half in order to get the reader into the swing of things. It does start to speed up towards the end, as many books do, but there isn’t a lot of fast-paced action or fight scenes particularly. The ending is a bit of big cliff-hanger, though, and I can’t wait to see what happens in book two as it looks to be quite different from book one. Overall, I really did enjoy this book and I really want to keep reading to see what Dhonielle does with the rest of the books in this series.

Sarah Bruch

May 2018

(pub: Gollancz. 434 page paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47322-396-7)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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