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What: The Belles (The Belles #1) by Dhonielle Clayton

Who: Gollancz

When: February 13th 2018

How: A copy of this novel was provided by Hachette Australia for review.

I am a Belle. I control Beauty.

In the opulent world of Orléans, 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.

The Good

1) The writing

The writing style of The Belles was, for the most part, engaging. There was definitely something about it that kept me hooked every time I opened it, which was evident by the fact that I read about one hundred or so pages every time I picked this book up.

2) The story

The Belles is set in a world where beauty is the single most important thing to people. However, this doesn’t mean that they cherish beauty, as their tastes and fashion changes faster than the speed of light. The world of The Belles was one of those instances where you want to look away because it’s so vapid and horrible, and yet you can’t find the will to.

3) #ownvoices black rep

Though #ownvoices books are increasing in number, a lot of the titles being published are contemporary. Which is great because contemporary books often tackle real world problems, which is incredibly important. But I’m particularly excited when #ownvoices fantasy books are released because fantasy is my jam and I focus a lot of my reading on diverse books. So when I saw the cover for The Belles, and knew that it was #ownvoices for black rep, I my interest in it was definitely piqued. We need more #ownvoices books, more books by women of colour. Especially in genre fiction, where characters get to be heroes.

The Bad

1) The writing

Yes, the writing in The Belles is both a good and a bad point. The reason it’s landed in the bad aspects of the book is because it was extremely repetitive, and at times very hard to slog through. I cannot count how many times every single thing was compared to food. Skin colour, hair colour, dress colour, eye colour, lip colour – literally everything that had a colour was compared in a food-themed analogy.

2) The pace

The first one hundred or so pages were pretty darn boring. There was only a small part of me that was actually interested in continuing, instead of just DNF-ing in favour of a book that didn’t take so long to get to the point. Come the last fifty or so pages, the pacing was almost too fast, and so many big plot points were skimmed over in favour of the semi-cliffhanger ending.

3) The romance

There was absolutely nothing there. The main character and her love interest lacked any and all connection and chemistry, which made it very hard to believe that Camellia would go against everything she’d been brought up to believe about how her Belles powers react to love. The connection between Camellia and her beau was seemingly unfounded because they only interacted a handful of times, most of which were filled with subpar banter.

The Problematic

1) The misgendering a trans character

Throughout The Belles there are a number of scattered headlines from the newspapers that the main character reads, and one of them pertained to a trans person undergoing gender affirmation surgery at the hands of a Belle. The headline misgendered the trans person in the first few words. I suspect the line was supposed to make the reader believe that the world of The Belles is trans inclusive but it did the complete opposite by refraining from using the word trans/transgender and misgendering the character.

2) The murder of a queer girl character

I had requested The Belles from the publisher before I knew that a queer character was murdered in this book. If I had, there’s no way I would have requested it, or read it. But since I hold myself to a reviewing standard of ‘if you request it, you read and review it’ I read every word and page of The Belles.

There was a rumour floating around that the author was going to change the fact of this murder, but I want you to know that this is not the case. A queer girl character, one of only two who have any lines or character arc (the other dies as well, in case you were wondering how other queer characters in this book fare), is murdered by Camellia and her bestest buddy. After the princess deems that she’ll marry a sexual predator instead of her girlfriend. This murder occurs for fleeting allocishet pain, and all so that Camellia is hated by the court. I am sure that a queer girl didn’t have to die just so Camellia would leave. There are other ways to spur on that kind of plot point. There are ways other than killing a queer girl.

The on page murder itself was absolutely disgusting. I won’t go into details, because the event had my heart beating wildly and my hands shaking so I would not force the details upon anyone unwillingly. I will only say that I was incredibly, incredibly angry that this death had made it to the final version of The Belles. And that hardly anyone was talking about it.

I understand the importance of The Belles for black girls who have never seen themselves on the YA fantasy covers of girls in pretty dresses, and who have never seen themselves as the heroine of that same book. But this book also has two queer characters dying, one of which is murdered in a horrible way, and no one is talking about how wrong it is. I’ve said this before, and I will say it again here: we should not prioritise one marginalised community over another. We should not ignore harmful aspects in books just because we’ve found positives in that same text.

~

All in all, The Belles did not turn out the way I was hoping. I simply cannot overlook the abysmal treatment of almost every single queer character.

© 2018, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.

trigger warning

reference to animal cruelty (explicit), reference to animal death, murder of queer character, character in coma (drugged), attempted murder, poisoning, reference to death of mother, reference to torture, reference to murder, use of ableist language, fat shaming, bullying, torture, classism, inhumane imprisonment, vomiting (explicit), sexual assault, misgendering, and inhumane experiments

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Posted on: February 13, 2018 • By: Chiara

8 Responses to The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton: The Good, the Bad, and the Problematic

  1. ezza says:

    Bummer you didn’t like it. I personally haven’t read it myself but I thought your review was concise and straight to the point and do agree with you that you shouldn’t prioritize one marginalized group over another.

  2. Honestly, I was never really interested in this one…though #ownvoices is great and black rep in fantasy is awesome. However, now that I’ve read your review, I’m definitely not reading it. Can we stop killing all the queer girls? And BOTH queer characters die? Like…how did nobody notice this enough to say something?

    Thanks for your thoughts though!!

    -Lauren

    • Chiara says:

      Originally I was ambivalent about this book but I do like to support marginalised authors so I thought I’d give it a go, especially since it sounded pretty unique. Obviously I kind of regret that because it was not an enjoyable read for me. I really wish we would stop killing off queer characters, ESPECIALLY for the emotional ~growth~ of allocishet characters.

      No problem, Lauren!

  3. This makes me so sad (especially that you had to read it without knowing it was coming like that)…and also confuses me NO END because I thought the author was really sensitive and savvy about things like this, being such a prominent voice for sensitivity readers?! 😭 But I agree it sucks to see a book that finally is giving a lot of marginalised readers what they need, but still trashing other marginalised communities. My interest in this one has really gone down…

    • Chiara says:

      Yeah, it made me super sad, as well. It was so hard to read, especially because I saw some people on book twitter saying that the author was going to change those two things. Which obviously didn’t happen. It’s sad because I realise the importance of this book for so many readers, but I know that so many other readers are going to be hurt by these things. :(

  4. I’ve actually heard of that about the writing and how it was compared to food, lol. I heard about the queer character too and it’s a shame to hear about the misgendering. Thank you for providing such a balanced thoughtful review Chiara!

    • Chiara says:

      There were WAY too many comparisons to food. It was painful *sigh* Yeah, those two things were a huge letdown for me, especially since there were rumours going around that both had been removed. No problem, Jeann!

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