(2019) Dhonielle Clayton, Gollancz, £10.99, trdpbk, 344pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22399-8
This is the sequel to The Belles, which was a massive 'young adult' hit in 2018, becoming a New York Times bestseller. I read the Belles shortly before I read The Everlasting Rose. I donít think that the Everlasting Rose really works as a standalone book, so if you havenít read The Belles I would suggest reading that first.
The books are set in an alternative New Orleans, a world where beauty is the main and only focus. For some reason (which is never really explained) the people of New Orleans have become completely grey, their skin and hair bereft of colour. The only way to gain colour and become beautiful is to pay for the services of a Belle, a young woman with a magic power that allows her to temporarily transform make-up into real hair and skin. Belles can change the structure of the body, altering facial features and physical proportions as well as making external changes. But their services are expensive, and without colour, the poor cannot better their lot in life. I was intrigued by the concept, and a book which explores the power of beauty and the lengths that people will go to achieve has the potential to be a very important one for young women in our current time of plastic surgery, social media and selfies.
The Belles followed a young woman called Camille as she manipulated her way into the Royal Palace and the job as Belle for the queen, a job she felt that she deserved (but which had been given to her closest friend). At the end of the Belles, the Queen was dead and her evil daughter Sophia was about to take the throne. The Everlasting Rose follows Camille in her attempt to hide from Sophia and bring Sophiaís sister Charlotte to the throne instead, believing that Charlotte will be a fair and just ruler. Camille and the other Belles go on the run, together with Camilleís bodyguard Remy, with whom she has a burgeoning romance.
And thatís pretty much it.
The main problem with The Everlasting Rose (and The Belles) is that the series wants to be the best-selling Hunger Games but it isnít. Much has been borrowed from that series, with the royal court closely resembling Panem. The costumes and hair worn by many of those in the palace made me think of the Hunger Games films. Camille is no Katniss, and the plot lacks the tension that is woven so tightly into the Hunger Games, probably because Katniss never wanted to be a saviour, but Camille not only wants that role but feels entitled to it.
Although the world building has some interesting elements, they arenít enough to compensate for the lack of tension in the story. Details quickly become repetitive. Teacup dragons are potentially interesting but not when they are constantly described as climbing in or out of Camilleís waist sash. The drip feed of information about where Belles come from, how they are born, and why they have their abilities gave the impression that the idea wasnít truly fleshed out and this is something of a problem in the second book. The romance also falls flat, as there is very little sexual tension between Camille and Remy.
If you enjoyed The Belles, and many readers did, then you will probably enjoy this. However if you didnít like The Belles (which I have mentioned you need to read first) then you wonít find anything here that will change your mind.
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