What an astonishing read!
First of all I was favorably intrigued by the cover and the title: for once a beautiful young woman – a ‘Belle’-with brown skin and curling black hair.
Reading on I was more and more pleased to see that the Belles weren’t only beauties, but much more: craftwomen, creators, very hard working persons.
In fact we quickly understand that the world is a dystopia, where the Belles are slaves, conditioned to think that they have a grand cause, an honorable mission.
The point of view is clever and never modernised. The heroine thinks as she should, having the sheltered and misleading life she had. Her evolution, during the story, is credible and never complacent. I had doubts, for instance, when the beautiful young man appears. But if the character, and even the second young men, are quite classic, the interactions ring true. Camellia always reacts as she should, having the life she had. This rigour gives the tale all its saveur.
The creativity and attention given to the detail are huge. The narrator has a creative eye, always thinking in terms of shapes and colors, images and comparisons always popping in her mind. In consequence the narration is very graphic, with a lot of descriptions, a bit Zola-like, but never boring and easy to read on.
The story evolves slowly, unfolding itself in all its cruelty. The mysteries are plentiful, no infodump at all, the writing is perfect, the reader just sees what Camellia discovers and nothing more (of course the reader may speculate – and she does).
The atmosphere is very personal, with a flowery prose, embellished with quite a few French words (and a lot of ‘petit’ instead of ‘petite’, which was weird!). The intrigues and injustices enralving, after a beginning which could compares to a Barbie film (The Twelve Princesses 🙂 ) reminded me quite forcefully of the brilliant French series by Christelle Dabos, « Les Fiancés de l’hiver ».
The end is satisfying with a healthy dose of revelations but still plenty of material to make a wonderful sequel!