The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on October 8, 2019
Series: The Beautiful #1
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 448 pages Source: BookCon 2019
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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.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from BookCon 2019 and G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Vampires and YA have a history. In the early 2000s, Twilight took the world by storm and everyone and their mom was reading vampire YA. In fact, Twilight is one of the things that helped solidify YA as a genre. But the vampire waved burned up in the sun quickly (sparkled up in the sun?) and I think plenty of us look back on that era and cringe. It’s been taboo ever since.
Renée Ahdieh took a risk with The Beautiful.
This book was well approached – if I had to compare it with any pre-existing vampire story, I’d say it comes the closest to the Sookie Stackhouse series. I’d also say that while we’re all excitingly looking for vampires, The Beautiful isn’t actually a vampire books. There’s vampires involved, but it’s a romance first and a paranormal story second. For all the hype, we see very little of vampires.
Marceline, the main character, has a secret boiling inside of her that shapes much of her view of self-worth. There’s the romantic struggle to or to not love someone that feels Shakespearian. Renée Ahdieh wanted the reader to fall in love alongside Celine. Our love interest, Sebastien, is one of the traditionally “tall, dark, and handsome” types that is sure to win the hearts of many readers. In particular, those who fall for the villain are going to fall for Bastien.
Where Renée Ahdieh shines in The Beautiful is her conversation about fashion. Celine – a former Parisian with a passion for fashion – is at her best and brightest when designing clothing, and is lucky (unlucky?) enough to fall in line with Odette. Her patron has money to spare, and the girls become friends. The descriptions of parties and ensembles are elegant. Renée Ahdieh did her research in this area, and it shines through in the way she writes about it. I also very much appreciated the grace with which she rolled French phrases into the dialogue and Celine’s thoughts. They flowed naturally and were atmospheric and accessible to non-French speakers.
One thing that drove me crazy? I feel like so many scenes in this book were just a means to an end. The flow felt forced and structured. I’m not sure if this is going to come off to too many casual readers, but I felt there were conversations that existed solely for the purpose of encouraging the relationship and therefore the emotional toll at the end. They felt so clunky and obvious in their design; I think the lack of subtlety made it less effective for me. I felt the ending was very predictable, and walking away from the book, it was not… memorable. Its structured made it the type of book you read because it’s hyped, but not the type you’re dying to pick up and devour again.
This is all personal to my experience with The Beautiful. I know many people are excited for this book, and the romance will delight the romantic souls out there in the audience. Renée Ahdieh is a good writer, but I simply don’t believe this is her strongest work. And if you’re coming in for vampire goodness, this book will not deliver in that respect. There’s a little mystery, a little drama, a little New Orleans, but The Beautiful is missing that “wow” factor.
The Beautiful will be finding a new home.
For all that The Beautiful promised, I found myself bored. There were scenes where the writing really shone and I was able to absorb the story a little more fully, but it wasn’t the type of book that gripped my attention or excited me. Since I honestly can’t see myself reading this one again, there’s no reason for it to make a permanent home on my bookshelf.
Are you ready for YA vampires to make a comeback? I am! But I’m very picky about my vampires – I like them dark and villainous, like Dracula, so I feel like I’m setting myself up for disappointment. Tell me all about your favorite vampires in the comments1