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The Belles isn’t particularly satisfying, and while that sounds like a bad thing, I assure you it’s actually the recipe for a killer start to a YA fantasy series. Dhonielle Clayton has developed a world in which the most compelling questions have yet to be answered and the real meat of the story is just getting started. I’m gonna need that sequel, stat!

There’s a ton of worldbuilding here, but it’s all on the surface. For most of this first book, Clayton is showing us the world of the Belles as it wants to appear, not as it really is. Narrator Camellia wants—or thinks she wants—to be the royal family’s favorite Belle, using her mysterious powers to transform and beautify the VIPs of Orléans. That’s what she and the other Belles have been trained their entire lives to do—change skin color, mold facial features, and generally make everyone in Orléans an object of beauty. Those who can afford to pay, anyway. Without regular treatments from the Belles, the citizens revert back to their natural state, gray and coarse and unsightly. As times goes on, Camellia starts to see under the glitz and glamour, and the true face of her home is an ugly one. Belles may not be the privileged divas she thought they were. On top of that, there’s a power-hungry princess who grows more reckless and cruel by the day, and a ticking clock of succession that could put her on the throne.

Even though I wouldn’t go back to being a teenager for any amount of chocolate, I got a little wistful thinking about how much my teenage self would have loved Clayton’s critique of superficial beauty standards. Don’t skip the author’s note at the end, either, as she explains her inspiration for the story in a really honest way that made me love the book even more. And now I’m off to stare at the beautiful cover while I wait for book two.