Review: The Belles

Holy pretty cover, batman.

Everybody knows, I think, that I love me a good dystopia. Seriously, it just never seems to get old for me, I am always here for all of the post-apocalyptic disaster stories. All the time. I’m not sure if The Belles, the first in a new series by Dhonielle Clayton and published tomorrow is classed as dystopian or whether it’s an alternative reality because I don’t think that’s ever explicitly stated, but it felt dystopian to me, so that’s what we’ll go with. Teen feminist dystopia. Is that a thing?

The premise is simple: in the opulent Orleans, everybody is born grey and plain; only the Belles, a group of young girls, with a mysterious set of powers can make a person beautiful. Belles have the ability to alter every single last thing about a person, to order. In Orleans everybody wants to be beautiful, beauty is valued higher than anything so the work of the Belles is expensive and in demand. (Think The Hunger Games district one here – that’s what Orleans and the people looked like in my head I was reading anyhow.)

Camellia is a Belle.  Every few years the old set of Belles are retired and a new generation are brought forward, a group from one of which is chosen to be the favourite, to live at Court and to make the Royal Family beautiful. Camellia wants to be the favourite.


LIFE AT COURT, LIFE AS A BELLE, IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS. Nothing, in fact, is what it seems.

(Also side note, the villains in this story were delicious: everybody loves a real bad baddy, right? This book has that.)

This book is fantastical and you need to suspend your belief entirely going in and – slightly problematically for me actually because I am all about the world-building – you’re kind of thrown in at the deep end with not much explanation given to the whys and the hows and there wherefores. That didn’t stop me guzzling this book down (although it doesn’t really get going until about a third of the way in) but I won’t lie: I would have loved it more had there been more background and more explanation; I’m always so greedy for that stuff – I need to understand it to believe it and whilst I loved the concept here, I couldn’t quite grasp how it would all work.

There’s a whole mythological element which I loved, and I’m really hoping that in the rest of the series, that’s explored in a little more detail too, I’d also like to see more of Orleans outside of the Royal Palace.  Here’s hoping all my questions will be answered in the sequel if I’m patient. I have so many questions, none of which I am going to pose here because: spoilers.

On the whole that’s my overriding feeling I think; the ideas Clayton touches on in this book fascinated me and I would have loved for them to have been explored in more detail. It’s repetitive in places, and if I’m honest I did find it dragging and that bugged me because I was so intrigued – the whole idea of it, the world, the story, the characters, I was fascinated by it all and so when I found myself feeling like I was reading back over what I’d already read a couple of times I was frustrated:  it didn’t quite reach its full potential for me, and it’s such a shame because it could have been amazing if it had just had a little more depth. That said, I’ll be keeping my little eyes peeled for the rest of the series because this is a book full of secrets and lies and deceit; real proof that beauty is so much more than skin deep, it’s message actually not that dissimilar to that of Scott Westerfield’s Uglies. It’s an interesting concept, and its cleverly told with so much of it familiar if extreme – it’s a really interesting study in what it means to be ‘beautiful,’ what ‘beautiful’ looks like and the values society places on that. Not just the desperation to be the latest version of beautiful, but how the Belles are seen as commodities rather than people, the way they are expected to give up everything about themselves for what they believe to be some Greater Good, although in reality that’s all smoke and mirrors and the reality is much more sinister. I loved it.

Most of all, I wish post balloons were a thing.