The Belles is a world obsessed with beauty. The majority of people in Orleans are born Gris, with gray skin, red eyes, and hair like straw. The few that are born with beauty are the Belles, and not only do they hold all the natural beauty left in the world, but they are able to make the Gris beautiful (for a time, none of their work is permanent, people must always return for more). The Belles are trained to adjust everything from skin color, to bone structure, to temperament. They are trained in seclusion with their “sisters” until their debut where one is chosen by the Queen as the favorite, to work in the palace, to live along side the royal court. Camellia, wants nothing more than to be the favorite, just like her Maman. With a penchant for bending (or outright ignoring) the rules, Camellia debuts with flair and fanfare. But once the Belles arrive at court they discover that life adjusting people’s looks is far from beautiful. There are endless (draining) appointments, unrelenting demands (from the ridiculous, to the dangerous, to the cruel), and mysterious cries in the night. With an ill queen and one comatose princess, the princess next in line for the throne is showing signs of being more than anyone in Orleans bargained for.

Camellia is a fun and headstrong character to follow through this world (self assured, even when it’s to her detriment, tending to saying what’s on her mind, even when she shouldn’t, and always moving to find out things for herself, rather than let the information come to her). Her initial instinct is to make the people of Orleans love themselves through her beauty work, which she generally finds to be in sharp contrast to what the people are actually demanding of her. The relationship of the Belles in genuinely sisterly; not all jealousy and back-stabby (they might get angry and hurtful with each other, but at the end of the day they have the others’ backs).

The exploration of beauty, desire, obsession, and true ugliness is well done in this fun, page turning, series starter.