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.
This book was wild. I don’t know what I expected from it but it was certainly a surprise! This book takes a deep dive into the subjects of beauty obsession and body dysmorphia and how dangerous they can be.
I was thoroughly impressed by the world building in this book. There’s a mythos about the world that explains why people are the way they are and even their roles in life (at least for the Belles). This is drilled into the Belles’ heads as they grow up. When the story starts out it is one of the most glorious days in a Belles’ life–the day they are assigned their positions in the court to serve the people of Orleans in using their magic to make them beautiful. The girls are happy and excited and also vying for the supreme position of ‘favorite’ to serve the royal family, so a little competitive as well. It’s not too long after this, once the girls are settled in their various positions, that odd things start happening. Still, Camellia is mostly focused on her spat with her sister and later distracted by things at court. And of course we, as the readers, start to realize that things are not as they seem, there are definitely secrets about the Belles that are being kept from the Belles, before Camellia starts to wonder about things.
As for characters, Camellia was a very well-written character that was a hard one to like at times. She is very much a sheltered child in a lot of ways and she’s also ambitious, with a mind to be the favorite like her mother was. She is a little bit arrogant. Of course all of that is a perfect recipe for disaster as these traits wind up landing her in hot water time and time again. Eventually she does start to learn though. And she’s not a bad person at all, she just finds herself in over her head very quickly. I feel like we didn’t get to know the other characters that well. I wish we could have spent more time with some of them, but I think we will in the next book so I’m looking forward to that because I think there’s a lot of potential with them.
Let me just say this—the society in this story is really fucked up. Everyone is completely obsessed with beauty. Because most people (except Belles) are born with gray skin, hair the texture of straw, and red eyes, they rely on the Belles magic to make them look ‘beautiful’. But this makes us ask, what is beautiful? Why did these people decide what the beauty standard was if this is what they naturally look like? Well, that aside. They have an ministry dedicated to beauty, they have beauty laws which dictate what can and can not be done. Belles are basically a combination of plastic surgeon/make up artist/hair dresser, except they do all this with their magic. It’s not a fun or easy process for either party. It takes a lot out of the Belles and they can be overworked. For the clients, it’s painful to undergo these procedures. And yet they do, and they pay a high price to do it. Because better that than to show your true self.
And that’s not even the most fucked up thing in this book. Princess Sophia, like everyone else, is obsessed with beauty. But she’s obsessed to the point of madness. She’s cruel and has power at court and she loves torturing people. She has zero empathy. To put it bluntly, she’s a psychopath. And it’s infuriating that people just keep letting her get away with stuff because she’s a princess. Honestly, I don’t know why someone didn’t try to take her out? I know she’s the princess but she is still just a person. Especially since there were other people in a higher position that didn’t want her to become the next ruler. And aside from that, she’s also a bit of a mad scientist and things are eventually revealed about the nature of the Belles that is…shocking to say the least. I still want more explanation so I suppose I’ll have to read the next book. 😀
There’s kind of a romantic sub-plot but it does feel more like a one-sided crush in a lot of ways. Camellia has been sheltered her entire life so it’s not too much of a surprise when she starts to fall for someone when they flirt with her and pay her attention. Of course, August seemed to become attached to her from their first meeting and nothing about it felt organic. I was going to complain about this but, for this story, this actually makes sense later, for reasons. I won’t go into the details but I wouldn’t go into this one expecting a big romantic subplot like there is in many YA books, otherwise you might be disappointed.
Overall, I thought this was a really intriguing YA story since it deals with such a difficult subject matter in the world-building itself. I would like to get to know the characters a little better so I will definitely check out the next book. 4/5 stars.