I find that my opinion falls in the same camp as everyone else. This book is beautiful on the outside, both in physical nature and in summary, but dark and twisted and rotten on the inside. And I mean that in a good way. The Belles is a book that makes you think. Then think some more. It’s been a few weeks since I read this and I am still thinking about it.
Camellia is a Belle in the world of Orléans. Belles are beloved above all else because they control the beauty in Orléans. It’s not just enough for Camellia to be one of the Belles, however, she wants to be the Favorite Belle…the one who has most say in beauty standards created in Orléans. As Camellia gets closer to the royals, and to the role of Favorite, she discovers that a lot of sinister happenings are hidden behind the happily portrayed world of the Belles. It’s part fantasy, part mystery, and all social commentary, as I’ll discuss below the cut.
Before I get to anything else, I have to come clean. I’m not the best option for reviewing this book. As good as it was, and as uncomfortable it made me (I think it’s meant to have discomfort), I realized soon after reading that I missed a lot. The author of this book, Dhonielle Clayton, had a great thread about the reviewing community that made me realize this. So really what I can say is this: I may have missed some key points while reading, but that only serves to emphasize more just how topical and significant this book is. I am already due for a re-read, this time to absorb everything I overlooked the first time, and to better appreciate what I did catch the first time.
Beyond the social commentary on race & beauty & more given in this book, there is still so much to be praised. Orléans is a fantasy world unlike any I’ve ever read. As I was reading, I was continuously swept away by the uniqueness of the book. Even the character dynamics were wonderfully new. Nobody had clear motivations, making everything so much more anxiety-inducing.
The Belles, like I said above, is a surprising mystery as much as it is a fantasy. The characters and plot hinged on the unknown of the book. I read it because of how excellently written and thought-provoking it is, but I also read because I wanted to know everyone’s sneaky secrets.
It’s mysterious and dark and pretty all at once; and by all accounts, well worth the read.
Both Lily and I will be at the NOVA Teen Book Festival (our first book festival!) in Arlington, Virginia this Saturday, and I am so excited to see Dhonielle in person. At one of her panels she’ll be in conversation with Tomi Adeyemi…that panel is sure to be an event highlight!