THE BEAUTY TRIALS
With the dangerous, erratic Princess Sophia imprisoned, Queen Charlotte decides to invoke the ancient tradition of The Beauty Trials-a series of harrowing tests meant to find the one true ruler of Orleans. Edel, who has always aspired to be more than just a Belle, decides to enter and, after promising to bind her arcana to keep from having an unnatural advantage, joins a few dozen other hopefuls intent on becoming the next Queen of Orleans.
But the trials are far worse than any of them bargained for. As the women are put through dangerous tasks meant to test their strength, confidence, composure, and bravery, many perish, and Edel is mysteriously attacked by one of the other competitors-forcing her to use her powers just to survive. Will her subterfuge cost her the crown, or is there a larger conspiracy at play?
New York Times best-selling author Dhonielle Clayton returns to her sweeping, lush fantasy series with an all-new story teeming with high-stakes court intrigue and danger disguised by beauty
I absolutely loved the first Belles book, it was one of the first books I was granted an ARC on NetGalley for and I adored it. The sumptuous language, the world-building, the interesting premise and the plot were all top-notch and I was so excited to read the next in the series. Then I read The Everlasting Rose and was… disappointed. It felt very rushed, although the Dhonielle Clayton does explain that this had to change from a trilogy to a duology due to personal circumstances which was fair enough, but I just felt it was a real shame. Imagine my excitement to then be granted access to The Beauty Trials: ‘an all-new story’ set in the Universe of the Belles.
Part of my problem with this book was that everything I had read made it sound like it was a new story set in the same Universe as the duology. I read the 2nd Belles book 2 years ago (and it published 4 years ago), but I didn’t think I needed to re-read or check a synopsis as I remembered the broad-brush strokes of the Universe. I was incorrect - this is very much the third book in the Belles series just with a different narrator, and 30% of the way in I had to look up a synopsis to remember specific events and side-characters that were being referenced. Usually in a series, an author tries to help the reader out by reminding them of certain events or characters and give a little backstory as we go along. This unfortunately is not the case here and I really recommend readers go back and look at the other books before starting with this one.
My usual complaint with books is that they are too long, my most used reviewer phrase is ‘needs some editing to cut it down’, so I go very much against the grain by saying that I wanted more from this story. The plot of The Beauty Trials is really exciting: as the City of Orleans is imploding, an age-old tradition of The Beauty Trials is resurrected to declare the new Queen. Unfortunately, the whole book felt so rushed (just the same as Book 2 did), which was really disappointing. We hardly know anything about the other 7 competitors in the trials and this makes for low stakes when some of them are eventually killed off. Each of the trials only get a few chapters at the most and I would have loved more detail and more to happen in each one - particularly the first and last tasks which felt barely fleshed out. I did like that it was a self-contained story without much of a cliff-hanger ending, but I honestly wouldn’t have minded another 100 or so pages, or even another book to have made this story feel fleshed out. There were also some plot reveals and twists that felt *very* similar to events that happened in the other books, and I saw one twist coming a mile off for this very reason.
Overall, do not read this book without reminding yourself of what happened in the previous Belle books! There’s a great story here but I think it needed expositional reminders and more details about the tasks and characters to make it a 5 star read. Thank you to NetGalley and Orion Publishing Group – Gollancz for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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