Summary (from the publisher):
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.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
It isn’t Halloween season without having read at least one book with a demon or two, right?
I’m usually not one for paranormal stories, but The Beautiful received so much hype from a few of my book blogger friends at Book Expo. I really loved Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn back in 2015 (unfortunately I wasn’t as much of a fan of the sequel), so I was really excited to jump back into her writing. In short, The Beautiful follows Celine’s entrance into 1870s New Orleans society after fleeing from her life as a dressmaker in Paris. However, life doesn’t settle down for Celine in her new home. A string of gruesome murders leaves Celine and the city on edge, including its underworld led by the Court of Lions. If there’s anyone who Celine shouldn’t trust, it’s the Court of Lions’ darling, Sébastien.
Outside of my friends’ excitement, The Beautiful caught my interest for two reasons: its setting and Celine’s interest in fashion! The book is set in 1870s New Orleans, which was really unique when it comes to my reading experiences. I’ve only read a handful of books in this setting, let alone the time frame (let’s be honest, the only one I can really think of right now is Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the Easy). From exploring Celine and her friend Pippa’s time at the dreary convent to the extravagant nightlife of the Crescent City’s elite, Renée Ahdieh really delivered on an atmospheric setting. Being the (book) foodie that I am, I loved any scene that involved food and sent Celine thinking back to her days in Paris.
Speaking of Celine and Paris, Celine’s character is largely influenced by her interest in fashion and her time studying as a dressmaker in Paris. And yes, I am that person who picks up a paranormal murder mystery for the clothes. I wish there would be have been a tad more about fashion ( give me dresses over demons any day), but I appreciated how the descriptiveness of the characters’ outfits.
The Beautiful is truly Celine’s story, as she adjusts to life in New Orleans after leaving behind a dark secret in Paris. Renée Ahdieh highlights that women weren’t necessarily the most respected in this time period through Celine and the Court of Lions’ lead female leader, Odette. A girl like Celine is expected to come to New Orleans to find a new life in the form of a husband and family- not solve a murder that began with your arrival. Both Celine and Odette are both really strong, stubborn characters who always have a good comeback (and escape plan) or two in store.
There is a romance subplot throughout The Beautiful. I liked that it didn’t really become part of the main plot until the latter half. Celine finds herself physically attracted to Bastien from the get-go, but true feelings (rightfully) don’t come until after spending a significant amount of time with him. As much as I did like Bastien and his chemistry with Celine, I have a soft spot for the other man of interest in Celine’s life (and not to mention his sassy grandma).
The Beautiful is a bit on the lengthy side, clocking it around 420 pages. A lot happens and the story is fairly fast-paced. I’m not the biggest action fan, but most of the action scenes made me gasp (and not just for the often gory details).That being said, my major disappointment with The Beautiful is that there was too much unanswered at the end. I’m not even talking about the cliffhangers, as I expected some sort of cliffhanger being that there is a book #2. We never uncover what exactly is paranormal about Celine, or whether or not there is something about her character that has drawn her to murders and Court of Lions.
In addition, I thought the chapters told from the killer were unnecessary. It was fun trying to guess who the killer could have been, although I admit that their ultimate reveal at the end surprised me. However, their chapters were not specific enough to provide sort of specific information or context that helped me understand the book’s paranormal happenings any better. I definitely see myself picking up the sequel, The Damned, in 2020, but I think I may need a reread beforehand to try to pick up more plot threads and re-familiarize myself with the book’s fairly large cast.
Overall, The Beautiful is an atmospheric mood read perfect for those who love a good spooky or paranormal story during the Halloween season. While the plot could have used more development throughout and the ending was left a bit too unopened, I really enjoyed Renée Ahdieh’s attention to detail and her character development.
This review is based on an advance reading copy. By no means did receiving this ARC affect my thoughts & opinions.
Is The Beautiful on your TBR? Have you read any books by Renée Ahdieh? Share in the comments!