I’m a sucker for vampires. LOL, get my joke? No, but seriously. If it’s got vampires in it, I’ll probably read it, watch it, consume it. Vampires are literally my favorite mythical beings in literature. And there’s been this sad void of vampires for a few years now. There was that period of time when Stephenie Meyer was writing those Twilight novels and there was a surge of vampire-related material, but nothing good has come out lately.
So when Renee Ahdieh wrote a vampire novel, I was all over it.
The Beautiful follows Celine Rousseau, a young seamstress who just made her way to New Orleans from Paris to escape her past and find herself a bright future. She lives in a convent with a few other girls when they meet “The Court of Lions,” an underground group that runs gambling and drinking throughout the city. Its leader, Sebastien Saint Germaine, is a young dude whom everyone calls “The Phantom” because of the mysterious deaths behind his family.
When Celine becomes friends with Sebastien and other members of the group, the first body is found only to be revealed as one of the girls Celine made her way to America with. As more mysterious deaths happen around Celine, the truth reveals to be a much more twisted story.
I marked this one as a 3, but my feelings are more 3.5. I don’t want to give it 4-stars wholeheartedly, but I also know this book wasn’t terrible. It was good with a lot of potential for a great vampire series. Maybe it’s because this was the first book in the series, but it felt a little messy without a sense of direction and the writing style felt too YA for me.
I also agreed with a lot of the reviews my friends wrote. The pacing felt off and the first half of the book didn’t really pull me into the story until the very first body was found. The book didn’t really feel like it was set in the late 19th century either. There were a lot of descriptions on dresses and clothing, but dresses don’t make a historical novel.
Also, there was a lot of switching between languages. I think I clocked maybe four different languages used including Korean, French, Greek, and Spanish. While I’m a fan of diversity in writing and really loved seeing that in the faces of the characters, it was so hard to read dialogue when half of it is in French and all you have is what you learned in high school.
The book’s synopsis boasts three major parts to the story; a mystery shrouded in fantasy and a sultry romance. Let’s make sure we check off all the things before we move on:
- Fantasy: …shaky but I’ll give this one a check
- Mystery: Check
- Romance: ….ehhhhhhh
Seriously, I was most disappointed in the romance aspect because for the first half of the book, nothing happens. Yeah, you see Bastien and Celine and they have these subtle conversations and possibly holding back their true feelings, but you don’t really get romance off their friendship. But then they’re declaring their love for each other and Bastien’s uncle is warning Celine to keep away from him because she’s not a right match. It felt sudden and almost out of place.
When the romance started to pick up, then it felt like I was watching a Korean drama with the wealthy 3rd generation grandson that’s about to inherit the entire conglomerate who falls in love with the poor yet feisty woman who changes his perspective on everything. I’m all about Korean dramas and their tropes, but it came so late in the book that it almost doesn’t make sense by the time the book was over.
The fantasy elements (and this is where I’m talking about the vampire lore) was shaky. I felt like I got fed pieces of lore, but not enough to actually understand the background. It wasn’t enough to really build the world Renee Ahdieh wanted to build here. I’m not sure if she’s going off the Anne Rice-level of vampire or if she’s going to build her own vampire universe, but it felt like I got two pieces of chicken in a giant bucket and now I have to wait for the next book for more. I wanted to read this book because it said there were vampires and I did get vampires, but definitely not enough.
I think the best elements of the book were its mystery/suspense components. Having the mysterious deaths happening around Celine and no one knowing who’s behind it made finding out the culprit so worth the read. Reading the suspense parts and the murders made the vampire elements of this story feel more real. While I’ve read Twilight and know the whole sparkly vampire thing, I’m more of a fan of Anne Rice’s vampire legacy or Charlaine Harris with the Sookie Stackhouse novels (both of which take place in Louisiana, how funny!)
In my honest opinion, I feel like Renee Ahdieh held herself back. A lot of what I read felt like I was reading a contemporary YA and less like this suspenseful fantasy story with vampires. I feel like if this was more adult then we would get the sultry romance and the pretty gruesome mystery and a whole lot more vampires to fill that vampire void we’ve been missing.
I guess I’ll just have to wait for Jay Kristoff’s vampire book for that.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin Teen for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.