My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
I am not so captivated by the beautiful, monsieur. For I know beauty is only a moment in time. — Celine
Vampires have regained their fame this year. As an old fan of Twilight, I can’t deny that I’m quite pleased. Many people today have been enlightened to Bella Swan’s flaws, particularly her overdependence on Edward Cullen. Also, we grown-up readers have learned to abhor the latter’s corny declaration:
If men are predators, are women their prey? This brand-new novel says otherwise. It asserts that its heroine is a feisty lion, not a helpless lamb. I’m not sure if Renee Ahdieh meant to throw shade on Twilight. But with a metaphor like that, comparisons are inevitable. I dare say that this book is Twilight done well in that it’s more appropriate to today’s generation of powerful women and sensitive men.
The Beautiful is the survival story of Celine Rousseau, a French girl who moves to a convent in New Orleans, hoping for a clean slate. The city is magical as she expected. However, Celine’s new beginning is ruined when her fellow refugees go missing. Supernatural forces are at work, and Celine might be at their center. A rich snob named Sébastien Saint Germain seems to know what’s going on, but Celine isn’t sure if she should trust him. Can she still find happiness in New Orleans, home of La Cour des Lions?
I liked this book because most of it was shrouded in mystery. Renee’s writing was luscious as usual, complementing the dark yet glitzy atmosphere of the setting. The first chapter was already intriguing because I didn’t know what prompted Celine to leave her home. She had supposedly murdered someone, but she didn’t say who and why. Whenever she berated herself for taking someone’s life without an ounce of regret, I scratched my head in confusion.
The second enigma was Sébastien and his so-called court. He and his underlings resided in a fancy hotel wherein all kinds of debauchery took place. I immediately assumed that they were vampires. However, if the publisher hadn’t marketed The Beautiful as a vampire novel, I might have thought differently because Sébastien just acted like a very reserved elitist.
The third mystery was the villain of the story. Some chapters were told from their point of view. But they never disclosed their identity. All I knew was that they wanted to take revenge on Sébastien and his weird family. So when Celine finally met the serial killer, I was very surprised. Most YA fantasies are easy to predict, but this one was an exception.
Celine was strong indeed. Still, I didn’t appreciate her (or the author’s) constant reminders. As far as her wit and fortitude were concerned, there was more telling than showing. Even smart characters have stupid moments. For example, Celine’s plan to use herself as bait and “trap” the killer was pointless; she only put Sébastien and herself in grave danger.
Nonetheless, Celine’s impulsiveness paved the way for the harrowing yet beautiful ending. Other readers might have disliked what happened, but I loved it because Celine and Sébastien weren’t good for each other. How can you fall in love with someone whom you liken to the devil himself? My principles made me rejoice in their separation. Sorry but not sorry!
Overall, The Beautiful is a fine piece of gothic fiction, especially when you compare it to YA classics that dealt with vampirism. It isn’t Renee Ahdieh’s best work, but its lyrical writing and gripping plot prove why she’s one of my auto-buy authors.