The Belles / Dhonielle Clayton.
Booklist Reviews 2017 December #1
*Starred Review* Clayton's latest imagines a world in which the drive for perfection is also the greatest ruin. In Camellia's archipelago world of Orléans, a Promethean legend has it that the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty but soon grew jealous of the attention she gave to their children, the first humans. In punishment, he cursed them with ugliness: "Skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness." In retaliation, the legend goes, Beauty made the Belles. Now, beauty is the ultimate commodity. Camellia is one such Belle, a beautiful girl who is blessed, like her sisters, to transform the gray and ugly bodies of the citizens of Orléans into something beautiful—for a time. Camellia and her five sisters have just turned 16 and are about to take their places in society, where they will, for an exorbitant fee, work their magic upon the citizens of Orléans when the people's beauty starts to fade. For one Belle, that place will be in the imperial palace alongside the royal family. Like all her sisters, Camellia wants desperately to be chosen as the favorite, and though her talents are strong, her reluctance to follow directions may keep her from the ultimate prize. Despite the magic in Camellia's blood, beauty in Orléans is also pain. The expensive treatments Camellia performs can be torturous for the customer, but they drain Camellia of her own energy, which can only be replenished by having her blood treated with leeches. But above all other things, beauty here is deception. It's not long before Camellia realizes that the life she has been trained for and the world she has been prepared to enter are nothing more than mirages. The royal family is facing terrible challenges: a crown princess who has been in a mysterious sleep for years and a second daughter whose ascension to the throne could be disastrous. Camellia and her sisters have been kept in the dark most of their lives about their powers and strengths, and when Camellia is asked to use her Belle magic in ways it's not intended, she finds herself caught up in a political plot and faced with impossible choices. In many ways continuing a conversation that began in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, Clayton examines the price of beauty in a society that reveres it. Unlike in Westerfeld's series, race isn't edited out of Clayton's universe, and she's altogether wily about describing beauty, especially when it comes to skin tone—skin is "the color of toasted walnuts," "the rich color of honey bread," "a sugared beignet fresh from the oil." It's a clever indictment of the way women of color in particular are often portrayed in literature today, in a way that fetishizes and commodifies them. And Camellia, despite her status and her abilities, is often subjected to both. Clayton impressively offers up a series starter that, despite its broad commercial appeal, doesn't shy away from facing uncomfortable truths in our own society. The dual natures of ugliness and shame, the commodification of beauty and of women, the drive for perfection at any cost, the widening of one girl's moral landscape—all of it comes into play here. But even as it does, the action never slows, and the rich, rotting world never wavers. Readers may be almost grateful for that cliff-hanger ending—it means there's more to come. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2018 Fall
In the fantastical courtly society of Orlians, everyone is born ugly--except for the innately lovely Belles, who also have the supernatural ability to manipulate others' appearance. Camille, the queen's Favorite Belle, moves into the palace to provide beauty services to royals and aristocrats. Clayton vividly describes her world's dazzling fashion and lavish galas in the midst of profound racism/colorism, indentured servitude, and distorted body image.[Aug NftHB] Copyright 2018 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2018 #3
In the fantastical courtly society of Orléans, everyone is born ugly—"skin pallid, gray, and shriveled, eyes cherry red, hair like straw—as if all the color was leeched out of them." Everyone, that is, except the Belles, the few girls in each generation blessed by the Goddess of Beauty with innate loveliness (of diverse skin tones and body shapes) and the supernatural ability to manipulate the appearance and personality traits of others. The Belles' gifts require long study and discipline to refine; the treatments are exhausting for the Belles and often excruciatingly painful for their clients. As the Queen's Favorite Belle, Camille moves into the palace to provide beauty services to royals and aristocrats. Her primary client, Princess Sophia, soon reveals her sociopathic obsession with becoming the most beautiful in all of Orléans—as well as her insatiable thirst for power. In this deceit-filled and dangerous environment, Camille must make alliances and decide whether to use her gifts to intervene in Sophia's schemes. In an immediate present tense, Clayton vividly describes dazzling fashion and lavish galas in profound contrast to gruesome, invasive treatments and extreme class disparity. And while Clayton's primary theme is the destructiveness wrought by societally imposed beauty ideals, she also touches upon other systems of exploitation, including slavery, racism and colorism, rape culture, and forced labor. The (slightly rushed) ending leaves many questions to be explored in projected further installments. katie bircher Copyright 2018 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
PW Reviews 2017 November #3
Sixteen-year-old sisters Camellia, Edelweiss, Ambrosia, Padma, Valeria, and Hana are the new generation of Belles, young women who are responsible for keeping the citizens of Orléans beautiful, magically transforming their appearances to align with the latest trends. Descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, the Belles are paid to perform their magic to prevent their people from reverting to pallid, red-eyed creatures, their natural state. Talented Camellia believes that she will be selected as the Queen's favorite, a role the sisters covet deeply. But when another Belle is chosen, and Camellia is assigned to a teahouse to perform beauty rituals on the wealthy, she begins to wonder if what she has always believed about the Belles is true. Clayton (coauthor of