The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles.jpgTitle: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism, Young Adult

Publisher: Gollancz/Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 434

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Looking for the next big ground-breaking event in YA? This is it.’ Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series Welcome to the dark decadence of Dhonielle Clayton’s sharp tale of beauty, obsession and magic. . . 
I AM A BELLE. I CONTROL BEAUTY.
In the opulent world of Orleans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.
Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.
When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

‘Sumptuous and original world-building, heart-pounding plot and gorgeous prose.’ Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Season ‘A whip-smart writer with grand, grand talents.’ Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist ‘Breathtakingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.’ Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author

~*~

In the magical world of OrlĂ©ans, beauty is everything, and people will do anything to attain it and hide the drab features they are all born with. But there is a select group of girls who are born into this world with the power of beauty, who have the power to control beauty, and give people the look that they want” The Belles. Each generation has its own set of Belles, going back as far as OrlĂ©ans does, an isle-like nation where the Belles are placed either in the palace as the favourite, or in the island tea houses to assist clients and make them beautiful, in the image that they desire, though they must adhere to rules set forth by the queen. In the generation in the books, it is Camellia and her sisters, Ambrosia, Hana, Padma, Edelweiss and Valerie who are competing for the role of the favourite. They’ve been training their whole lives for this chance, and when it comes, the result is not what they expected, nor what each of them desired.

Within the walls of the palace are dark secrets, secrets that nobody is privy to, and that the newsies and tatters can merely speculate at and send hushed whispers throughout the kingdom. The only people who truly know what is going on are at the palace – and unable to leave or disobey an order that they are given by the queen or her daughter, Princess Sophia. What Camellia will see, hear and have to do will be dark, and dangerous, hinting at a much darker power than any of the Belles could ever have imagined existing, and resulting in a climax that hints that there might be a sequel to come, as there are quite a few unanswered questions.

The world of the Belles is lavish and shows the darker side of beauty and fashion obsession and what it can drive people to, how desperate they might become. In a world where changing ones skin tone and entire look can be paid for, the racial tensions we experience in our world do not seem to be there, and relationships between the same sex and opposite sexes appeared to me to be the norm – where people are paired up based on alliances and the desires of a princess at times, and at other times, their own, but where a Belle is forbidden to fall in love with anyone. she must remain loyal to her sisters and the tea house she serves.

On the surface of OrlĂ©ans, things appear perfect: because people seem free to choose their look – skin tone, features, hair colour, eye colour, and clothing (for a price and only if you can afford it), and be with someone you love, the dark, underbelly seems that much more sinister – it is hidden beneath a layer of perfection, and desire for what one cannot be. In a world where loyalty can be bought, Camellia and her sisters will learn the price they must pay for loyalty and their own safety.

As the favourite, Camellia finds an ally in the Queen, her guard, RĂ©my, and the various former Belles who mentor her, including Arabella, the favourite from a former generation. As the story goes on, secrets are slowly revealed – ensuring that the interest of the reader is held throughout, even in darker areas where characters are forced into situations that where they fear for their lives. In a few scenes, the tension is raised, and the pacing in these scenes works well for what they portray – the darker side of the world the Belles live in and what they must do to survive Sophia.

It is a novel of many layers and facets that were peeled back slowly, and where things were hinted at that perhaps mean future books – the ending felt more like the climax of a to be continued storyline, where there is more to come about the Belles and their origins, secrets and powers.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. I went into it not really knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Dhonielle Clayton has created a wonderfully complex world, and I hope we get to find out more about this world and its characters.

Booktopia

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Tales from the Kingdoms by Sarah Pinsborough

tales.jpg

I received a copy from the publisher for review

Title: Tales from the Kingdoms

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette/Gollancz

Published: 14/6/2016

RRP: $29.99

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 464

Synopsis: Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty: stories you love, and that we think we all know…but why would a prince fall in love with a woman in a coffin? Why would a queen poison her stepdaughter? And what is a fairy Godmother’s real motivation?

 

Turn the page, and discover these classic fairy stories, told the way they always should have been…

 

 

~*~

 

Tales of the Kingdom is an exquisite collection of three novellas – Poison, Charm and Beauty – retelling the stories of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. These tales incorporate elements of more than just these three fairy tales, seamlessly twisting the characters and their stories so that they work together to create a narrative that flows well throughout.

There were a few surprises whilst reading, though I had an inkling of what might happen part way through the second story, I enjoyed reading through to the end to see if the stories were to become intertwined with each other. Was the prince the same prince? Is this why he was not named? The nice inclusion and hints towards other well-known characters and their tales added to the overall story.

Most fairy tales explore the nasty side of evil characters and the nice side of good characters. Pinborough does the opposite; she explores the black, white and grey of all characters, showing that they are not all good, nor are the y all evil – they have reasons, motivations and most of all, she shows most of them as flawed humans, unless they are witches who always seem to have ulterior motives, or whose personalities are such stark contrasts, that these extremes are who they are. This seems to be a new trend in fairy tale retellings, as this is something Once Upon A Time does as well, but in a different way to this book.

Tales of the Kingdom is also a little bit sexy – the sex scenes are not overdone, nor are they the main focus of the story. They are the result of the spells woven by characters throughout and often are the turning point in the tales for the characters, in particular, for who the characters truly are, and perhaps showing the side of them that the happily ever after endings do not show. The messy implications of the actions of true love’s kiss and what it does to the parties involved. The stories perhaps question why true love’s kiss was so important in fairy tales, rather than just getting to know somebody for who they are, but also explores how some people see others and would prefer them to be.

I enjoyed reading this, especially as I have read and seen many fairy tale retellings, including Disney, and each retelling reveals something different about the tales.