THE BELLES by DHONIELLE CLAYTON
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton has always orbited around my reading circles, but I never gave the book a shot until now. I can’t say why I did–I guess I was just in the mood for some frothy fantasy? And that’s what this book appears to be at first blush: A frothy fantasy with a cool concept and fun New Orleans-inspired worldbuilding. Boy, was I wrong. The Belles is indeed a frothy fantasy…until it isn’t. It gets much darker and has a lot to say about society and standards of beauty, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. Here’s why:
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton follows our teenaged protagonist, Camille Beauregard, as she is set to “graduate” into a cutthroat world where beauty is valued above all else. Camille herself is a Belle, a young woman blessed with powers from the Goddess of Beauty that allow her to literally change how people look. She can change hair color, texture, and length. She can change skin color and body shapes and eye colors. She can even change your “manner”–your temperament–through the use of “arcanas,” special sets of powers all Belles have. Every three years a new class of Belles is graduated into the kingdom of Orleans, and their powers are put on display for everyone to see. Camille desperately wants to be the queen’s favorite and live in the palace, but when she’s sent to a lesser teahouse instead, things start to get strange in the kingdom of Orlean, and it isn’t just the passing beauty fads…
Firstly, I want to commend The Belles for having such wonderful worldbuilding. I loved how off the wall this was. It feels very court-like at times, with pretty ballgowns and political intrigue, but then you have crazy technological things like teletropes and circuit phones and “ear trumpets” used for spying. I loved this mashup of concepts and themes and found it very entertaining to read about. I also loved the Belles’ powers and how everything worked with the arcanas. This book has some clever worldbuilding and Dhonielle Clayton can’t be praised enough for it. I also really enjoyed the writing. While it may be over the top for some, it felt appropriate for this rococo-style book where everything is about froth and beauty. As for the characters, I liked Camille and really loved Remy, her stoic bodyguard. His relationship with Camille was delightful to read about and I loved their banter.
As much as I enjoyed this book and its theme of beauty not being everything (people are born into the world gray and Belles give them color as they age), I would have liked the envelope to be pushed even further. Maybe it will be in the next book (which I want to read), and I’m hoping maybe some of the classism of the royals will be explored as well. There’s also a really unfortunate trope near the end that I…frankly hate. One of the only gay characters in the book with any screentime is killed and really marred and otherwise great book for me. Even so, I enjoyed The Belles and knew about this character death going in. It didn’t ruin the entire book for me but I was disappointed by it.
However, if you are interested in The Belles, you can pick up our copy at the Argenta Library today!