I like the women that Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes and in The Beautiful Ones, there are two main female characters whose lives are shaped by the patriarchal, classist culture they live in, but each of these women lives is effected in different ways.
Nina Beaulieu is a young, untried ingenue just arrived from the countryside for her first Grand Season. A curious and studious young woman whose childhood has been marred by the haphazard manifestations of her untested, frowned-upon telekinetic powers, Nina has nevertheless had a good childhood in terms of financial security and familial love and affection. Now living in town with her cousin and his society wife Valérie, Nina is expected to marry well, perhaps even snag one of the high society Beautiful Ones.
Valérie Beaulieu is one of the Beautiful Ones—she has a Name even if she didn’t have money when she married her husband. Her stunning beauty, flawless taste and great manners mean every door is open to her powerful presence and steering (controlling) Nina toward a perfectly reasonable marriage is the least she can do even though the chit’s naivety grates on her nerves.
But this is primarily a romance novel and in between the two women lies a man, Hector, the third viewpoint narrative character. Hector and Valérie have a past: they loved each other but it wasn’t meant to be. Valérie was steered toward a loveless marriage because that’s what was expected of her by her family. She has made hers a good life until Hector comes back ten years later hoping to win her back but she knows it is far too late for these youthful yearnings. Her bitterness then knows no bounds and grows exponentially worse specially when Hector—now a rich a telekinetic showman—starts courting Nina to get back at Valérie.
Paying homage to romantic regency novels, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel is a beautiful fantasy of manners with a healthy dose of lovely romance that I devoured in one sitting. One of the things I loved the most about it was the slow progression of the main couple’s love story: Hector at first is obsessed with Valérie and have little time to spare for Nina – who is at first two young, too eager and too romantic for his taste but slowly, those very same characteristics speak to him on a deeper level. Hector’s own arc is developed beautifully: understanding his past, his traumas and his development into the man he is, is essential in order to understand his actions (actions that have consequences and which are not easily forgiven).
But to me, this novel is really Nina’s. It is her strength and determination to get what she wants out of live that drives most of it. It is Nina who makes all the first steps and whose empathy is so important to make things work. I loved seeing her growth, her agency (which works beautifully in counterpoint to that of Valérie, whose choices are marred by her own internalised beliefs – patriarchy is a terrible thing that women internalise too) and the development of her powers. And because this is not a fast tracked story, when Hector does fall in love with Nina, it feels true and lasting. And oh boy, what a great ending.
This is the third novel I read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I loved all of them in different ways: each in a different genre by a chameleon writer with incredible writing skills. It’s worth noting though that even if her novels all read very differently her female characters are all created with great care: sometimes they are not likeable, they are never infallible but always consistently awesome.
I would have loved to see more of the fantastical elements of the world in The Beautiful Ones—how does telekinetic powers effect people and the world in a wider scope, for example but still, I loved this book… just as it is.
In Booksmugglerish: 8 hearts out of 10