Hello Humans! Like many of you, I’m sure, I was caught up in the Vampire hype of 2009-11 (and beyond). I fiercely debated whether Bella should go for the wolf or the sparkly man, I gasped at the events of House of Night and…I probably read some weird books I got from the library that I’ve now forgotten – it’s likely. Frankly after all that I was tired of everything remotely vampyric. However, having recently finished Josie Jaffrey’s Sovreign series I felt I was ready to dip my toe back into this kind of story and see how it went.
Enter The Beautiful, the latest book from the author of The Wrath and the Dawn and Flame in the Mist – both series I have enjoyed (even if I didn’t love Flame in the Mist as much). This book was marketed as the Vampire YA revival we’ve apparently all been looking for and it seemed it would be a great story – but how did it go?
In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s leader, the enigmatic Sébastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sébastien’s guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.
When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.
At once a sultry romance and a thrilling murder mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet: The Beautiful.
This book is set in 19th century New Orleans which was, in my opinion, a great idea. So much of the teen vampire fiction saturation problem was that they were all set in small towns in America. So let’s start by upheaving ourselves back in time and into the centre of a city. I was here for it. Obviously, I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of the book but it certainly didn’t feel like liberties were taken. If anything, it’s made me want to look more into the history of New Orleans – if I ever have the time.
But it wasn’t tiny historical details that sold me on this setting. Rather, I think, it was the fact that Renée Ahdieh is phenomenal at creating atmosphere. She manages to capture the idea of a city that is simultaneously very hedonistic and religious, with a merging of various walks of life in one place. What I appreciated was that, to me, it didn’t feel fetishising, this wasn’t the ‘hoodoo and voodoo’ of Disney’s Princess and the Frog or the awkward appropriation of Music and Malice in Hurricane Town. It felt atmospheric without taking it to a cartoon.
The atmosphere was absolutely the winning aspect of this book. Unfortunately, things like character and plot were, to me, less successful.
I couldn’t quite get a handle on Celine as a character. She has that issue of ‘I have a terrible element of my backstory that I won’t reveal to the reader until the midway point’ which is sometimes a great hook to keep you reading. What would have been a better hook? – Vampires? I think I just have a bit of a pet peeve about information being withheld from the reader just to build suspense when actually it makes no sense for it to not be mentioned. It didn’t apply in this case but that bothers me most when the book is in first person. So a lot of what would be character development time felt taken up by ‘mystery plot device’ and in the end I don’t think I could have accurately described exactly what it was Celine wanted? Possibly that’s because at the start of the book she’s effectively been shipped off and maybe (if there are more books in the series) she will grow on me?
The plot! This is where I think an element of personal preference comes in. Broadly speaking this is a bit of a murder mystery as well as a fish out of water story. I think I would have liked more proactive problem solving from Celine in this to make it feel almost more like a detective story as opposed to a Vampire book – but perhaps that’s my preferences coming through. It was odd though, for all that is was marketed as the return of YA Vampires – this book doesn’t really dwell on the Vampiric aspect much, they feel much more like eccentric rich people until the very end of the book. Obviously, as a reader you know what’s happening and I just wanted more back story, more mechanics – just more.
I’ve been quite harsh on this book, looking back at my musings above, and I did have a fun time reading it. I thought it was the setting and the background that were captivating in this story and that carried me through to the end. I might end up re-reading it…maybe?
My rating: A solid 3.5/5 stars
I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
The Beautiful is available now!
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What say you? Will you be reading The Beautiful? Let me know in the comments below!
You’re right, Ahdieh is FANTASTIC at creating atmosphere, it was one aspect I loved about the book. Unfortunately, I got way too frustrated waiting for the supernatural elements to come to the forefront of the plot. There’s a lot of reveals that happen in like the last 30 pages that I think would have made this even more compelling if we’d known what was happening by the halfway point. Ah well.
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yeah that was my feeling – just a *little* more supernatural (or have none at all and make it all weird and plot-twisty)
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