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Friday, 24 January 2020
Review: The Beautiful
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review!
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 Le Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group's leader, the enigmatic Sèbastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of Le Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sèbastien'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.
This review is way overdue, I read it near to when it came out but I struggled to figure out how to put in to words what I wanted to say about this book other than just screaming. That and uni work was kicking my a**.
The Beautiful immediately drew me in with the intrigue scattered throughout the first couple of chapters. There's a mysterious prologue narrator, Celine and the hints to her past and what happened...and what exactly she did. By the time I got to the chilling third chapter with the ominous sense of something wrong, I was hooked in to this and more than willing to see where this was going to go and to get some answers to the questions that I already had building up.
Ahdieh's writing is incredibly rich, she creates a palpable atmosphere as you read and you can feel the danger and the tension...and the overall creepiness in some scenes. She brings the streets of New Orleans to life and her descriptions are so vivid, whether it's for the settings, the food or the clothing. As you read you have a clear image of everything along with an aesthetic and a vibe to each scene that you can feel which makes it incredibly easy to slip in to the world of the book as you read.
We quickly meet a colourful cast of characters. We of course have Celine who's our main character and I loved her. She's intelligent, she's brave and strong and she isn't here to fit in to the societal norms. She doesn't give a damn about society and what a woman should and shouldn't do and I loved that about her. She's feisty and such a brilliant main character. I loved her narrative and her internal monologue as she struggles with herself and the darkness within her. She also is of Asian heritage, and with the time period the story is set in it made for an interesting struggle she had as she's always been told by her father to ignore it, to not acknowledge it or admit it. I liked seeing her becoming more accepting of herself as she worked through it. We also have Pippa and the other girls at the convent, though I have a soft spot for Pippa. I loved that she stuck by Celine through everything and was such a good friend to her, even when Celine tried to keep her at a distance. Odette was another favourite character of mine, initially she's a mysterious, wealthy girl who commissions Celine but we quickly discover she's so much more than that. She's strolling around in pants instead of skirts, and I was intrigued by her from the start as well as her power. Speaking of powers, I was also intrigued by Arjun's and he was a fun character that I can't wait to see more of and get to know better too!
Our male lead for this book is Sebastien, or Bastien, and boy did I love he and Celine's first meeting/interaction. I was living for the banter and the dynamic between them, and I couldn't wait to see more of them together and dive in to the romance. He also has some mysterious past with Michael which provides yet more intrigue as you try to figure out what their issue with each other is!
I particularly enjoyed the chilling interludes we had with the killer as I was trying to figure out who it was. Their perspective as they choose their victims and the insight in to their motivations was interesting alone, but it also provides us with some key information about New Orleans and how things work, or more specifically how the world of this book works, with the mentalists and La Cour Des Lions. It also provides some nuggets of information on some of the characters which was especially fun as characters like Bastien and Arjun are quite mysterious in the beginning, so some light is shed on them...but you still want to know more. I feel like these little nuggets prepare you before you dive further in to the details, they lay the groundwork and build some excitement!
For the most part, our point of view is Celine along with the killer, but we do get Bastien's POV eventually, it just takes a while to come about. It was perfectly timed if not a little odd to suddenly have it sprung on us. Thanks to that we do get to delve in to Bastien a bit more, who's been rather mysterious and elusive up until that point. It's a good chance to get to know him better as well as his crew, I just would have expected to get his POV close to the start although it does allow an element of mystery to be kept up.
The thing I liked about reading this, is that there's no initial sense that it's a vampire book. The vampire aspect is as slow burn as the romance is, which I was loving by the way! I went in to it knowing that it was supposed to be vampires, but as Celine is our main narrator we're as in the dark as she is. We know what she knows, although we do end up a little bit more enlightened after a point thanks to the killer's POV. However, there's still plenty of questions to ask as the information was enough to tantalise but not satisfy your curiosity. As you're reading, it initially seems like a murder mystery with some potential magic going on, but the more information we got, the more curious I was about the vampire lore. We get more and more nuggets of it, and I was excited to find out all the details because it's certainly different to the usual. The vampires had been portrayed to us initially as magic users of a sort, or that's how they were portrayed to Celine, but as we head towards the end of the book we finally get a glimpse of their vampire sides and get to revel in the vampire-ness.
The Beautiful is an atmospheric rollercoaster ride, and there's a few nice twists to it. One of the best ones being the reveal of the killer. There was an interesting piece of information dropped about the killer in one of the POVs that had me gasping and gave us someone else to keep an eye out for and when the reveal actually came, so many little pieces clicked in to place. The odd sentence or comment earlier on in the book turned out to be hints that I'd missed entirely, but could see clearly upon the reveal! So when you're reading...keep an eye out!
The end is full of more twists than just the reveal of who the killer is, those twists keep on coming and there's so many fantastic reveals packed in to the last couple of chapters. One reveal in particular had me putting the book down and staring into space for a solid minute or two, thinking back over the entire book. I even went back to certain parts and everything just clicked that had been hinted at but that I'd once again missed, and it all fell into place and left me reeling. Even more so than Celine's actions that had me stifling the urge to shriek because I can taste the angst for book two already...and the impending love triangle although it's been spiced up a bit from the usual by the knowledge provided in the penultimate chapter.
I'd expected good things from this book, it sounded right up my street from the start and it didn't disappoint me at all. It's in fact left me screaming and impatient for the next book because we go on quite a journey in this one, and some brilliant things have been set up for the sequel!