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Thanks to Disney-Hyperion for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: February 6th, 2018

448 Pages

Synopsis: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

First, is that cover not exquisite? It perfectly fits the image of Camellia that I had in my mind. And to my delight, Belles not only lives up to the hype that’s surrounded it for months, but it is without a doubt one of the best debuts I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading! 

Everything in this story is meticulously developed and detailed, from the characters to the world-building. I actually had my doubts about Camellia in the beginning, because I thought she was a bit self- absorbed and full of herself. But almost before I knew it, I found myself admiring her self-confidence and gutsiness. I also loved the bond she shares with her fellow Belles. These girls are basically sisters, and while they may fight occasionally, at the end of the day they’re there for each other. As most of the story revolves around Camellia, I’m looking forward to getting to know the others more, although I can already tell that Edelweiss, the rebel, is going to be my favorite.

There’s a hint of a love triangle between Camellia, Remy (her personal guard), and August, who is one of Princess Sophie’s suitors. But while relationships do grow, there really isn’t a lot of time spent on the romance element, which I was quite happy about.

While there is a clear cut villain, what’s truly scary is Orlean’s dangerous obsession with physical perfection. The lengths they go to attain their perceived ideas of beauty are insane and cringeworthy. It had me thinking of our own society’s fixation on physical appearance, and I have no doubt that we would do the some of the same things if such magic or science existed. 

Dhonelle Clayton does a wonderful job creating this world where everything is so glittery and beautiful at first look, but underneath there’s a sordid darkness. I cannot stress enough that it’s all these descriptive details that really make this book. I was completely immersed while reading and more than once felt as though I was in the mythical world of Orleans. 

What I also loved about this book was the vast diversity of the characters and the very strong message it sends about not only our never ending pursuit of physical perfection, how other people shape our own personal beliefs. It also brings up the questions of how far would you go and how much is too much?

The plot itself is fast-paced and captivating and I feel like we’ve only scraped the surface of this intriguing world. The ending was absolutely perfect and wonderfully sets the stage for the next book.

Belles will definitely be in my top ten 2018 favorites list and I HIGHLY recommend it for older teens and adults who love fantasy and are looking for something completely different than anything they’ve ever read before. There one scene which features a sexual assault though that I want to warn you about. It’s brief, but some readers might have a problem with it. Otherwise, my only disappointment is that it will probably be at least a year before the next book is released. Oh, and if you do pick this up, Dhonelle Clayton’s Afterward where she talks about how this book took form is an inspirational must read!