Like a lot of people, I was a huge fan of Twilight back in the day. While I wasn’t deep into the vampire craze like a lot of people, I still thoroughly enjoyed seeing them in books and movies. I was really curious how Renee Ahdieh would bring back the hugely popular vampire novels. Spoiler: I’m pretty ‘meh’ about it.
by Renée Ahdieh
Series: The Beautiful #1
Release date: October 8th 2019
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
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.
I want to make something clear: I enjoyed this book, which may not be clear in this review because it honestly felt like everything that I liked I also didn’t like. I am by no means a vampire story expert, but I could definitely pick up on the references to other vampire novels, both pre-Twilight and during Twilight. The real question is, does this book bring back all that vampire nostalgia, or does it make me want it to go back into the dark recesses of the early 2000s? I don’t think I’ll be able to properly answer that question until the series is completed.
Let me give you a little word of advice: don’t go into this book thinking it’ll be vampires right from the get-go. Technically, they ARE there, but it’s never explicitly stated, just hinted at. We get these little peeks into the killer’s thoughts every now and then, and while it is never stated that this killer is a vampire, you can kind of infer that they are based on other books this is being compared to as well as the way these killings are happening. The vampires show up for real the last say, 30 pages or so? Which tells me that the second book will probably have vampires from the very beginning.
While I loved Celine’s character, she was also incredibly irritating to me. I had to keep reminding myself of the time period that this was set in because Celine constantly is reminding herself that she needs to behave like a proper lady, which basically means being meek and obedient. Combine that with the fact that she is always mentioning that she has something dark in her that “stirs” whenever another character is near her, it just didn’t feel completely believable with the rest of her character. Celine is characterized as incredibly reckless, headstrong and confident, so for her to be agonizing over the darkness she feels like she has was a little out of place to me. Especially because self defense does NOT mean you are a bad person. Again, I was finding it hard to put together Celine’s two sides, especially with the time period this is set in (which I’ll get to in a minute).
I did however really enjoy Celine’s friendship with Odette and the tension between her and Bastien. I do wish we had gotten to know them more though because I didn’t feel connected to them. I wish they had been mysterious while also giving us more insight into their characters. We never really got to see any sort of actions that would explain why Bastien is constantly (and I do mean constantly) compared to the Devil. There was just too much repetition with these character traits that didn’t really feel like they mattered.
Now, I’ve mentioned the time period a few times. This book is set in the 1870s in New Orleans, and while the atmosphere of New Orleans itself comes through, I struggled seeing all the 1870s influences. It felt almost like they were mentioned and then never really played a role in the story. If you think about that time period, there was a TON of discrimination – basically if you weren’t a white man, sucks for you. This is a tricky subject to handle because you want to see that diversity and see it done well, but you also want to really feel like you’re in that time period. La Cour des Lions treated men, women, people of color, and LGBT+ people as equals which, for the time period, doesn’t really fit. This could’ve easily been set in more modern day times and I don’t think it would’ve changed much of the atmosphere of the book.
One other thing I would like to point out is that there is a lot of French in this book. Personally, this wasn’t a problem for me (thank you school for 6 years of French). However, there aren’t any translations anywhere so if you aren’t familiar at least in passing with French, you would need to try to infer what was said.
There are hints that a love triangle may be brewing and I’m really hoping that if it does appear in the next book, it’ll at least be done well, although I’m not sure who would really want Celine to end up with the other guy (I’m trying not to give spoilers, okay??). There is also mention of two (or maybe three?) different groups: there is the Court of Lions (La Cour des Lions), the Brotherhood, and the Fallen. The reason I don’t know if it’s two or three groups is because I’m not 100% sure if the Brotherhood and the Court of Lions are the same group. Either way, we are never told who these groups are and what their purpose is. I’m hoping that the next book explains this more because I’m very confused. Is it maybe a good vampire/bad vampire thing?
The pacing is also very slow, which is neither a good or a bad thing, it just is. However if you combine that with the lack of information that is really given to us about the characters and their motivations and the setting, it felt a little unsatisfying.
The ending of the book was a bit confusing as to what was happening and I found myself rereading paragraphs to figure it out, which was a shame. That said, I am curious as to how events will play out in the second book so I do plan on picking that one up and seeing what happens, and hopefully some of my questions will be answered.