The sequel to Clayton’s The Belles (2018) freezes blood and steals breath.
With the capricious and conniving Princess Sophia poised to seize the throne and already capturing Belles in her obsessive greed and ploy for domination, Camille, her sisters, and the young soldier Rémy are all fugitives. Orléans society is in a frantic uproar trying to stay in the soon-to-be queen’s mercurial favor, and as the orderly veneer of an economy of beauty trade crumbles away to fully reveal its darker, underlying structures of enslaved magical labor and implicit violence, the dehumanizing attitudes Sophia emboldens throughout the kingdom endanger Belles everywhere. Camille knows her only hope is to find the recently awakened Princess Charlotte, who is the rightful heir, but as Camille realizes the horrifying extent of Sophia’s cruelty and as her own actions and alliances grow more questionable, it becomes clear that putting things right may cost her everything she has known, about her world and herself. The opulence of Clayton’s world gives way here to the stark contrast of its sinister underbelly of material beauty and class oppression. Narrative craft that can hold the tension of the implicit (and sorely lacking) value of black and brown features as beautiful as it intertwines with incisive commentary on the overall commodification of beauty is no small feat, and Clayton manages thrills of action, magic, romance, and revolution as well.
Beauty comes at a price; so too does freedom. (Fantasy. 14-18)