The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh Review
Updated: Oct 20
Title: The Beautiful
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Description: 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.
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(Trigger Warning: Violence, Murder, References and Illusions to Rape)
The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh is a YA paranormal fantasy that is richly decadent with every turn of the page. The story was in the October Fairyloot box for its vampire theme. And it delivers on that front in every way. It's an unconventional tale of vampires in that the author takes the concept to flip it on its head in New Orleans. A sequel called The Damned is set to release in 2020 as a continuation to the book.
The vibe of The Beautiful entangles with its opening message that, "New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead". A reader can't resist being drawn in by the story as it continues on in an array of the sinful. There's an ambience that transcends the pages. Renee Ahdieh's words set a mood perfect for the tale. It's truly a period piece with an indulgent way about it.
There's an underlying cynicism in the narrative with notes of bitterness that leave a taste on the reader's tongue. Violence of the story is best described as seductive and entrancing to the reader. The writing style is detailed yet easily consumed. Dialogue is period appropriate while still containing a modern sense of amusement. There's an undercurrent of commentary on the times these characters inhabit. It adds a modern flair to what could have fallen flat. The book possesses a sticking to the traditions of the day while also relying on a commentary of them. It is so amazing to see a book with such diversity where people thrive in the period they live while still acknowledging the awful truths of the time.
The main character, Celine, is an anomaly one isn't sure what to make of at first. Celine is a smart narrator weighted by a past that sent her to New Orleans and straight into the arms of the city's underworld. She is a character one enjoys reading the perspective of. Her mischievous spirit carries the story throughout. Celine's motivations are unique as a narrator and oh so truthful to who she is at her core. She is her own person with thoughts and opinions that challenge the notions of what is appropriate at the time of the setting.
Celine feels out of place in a world full of those who don't have a deep love for the darkness. Her courtship with danger is a part of the very foundation of the book. Celine's character is one of the strongest I've come across. But she doesn't operate in this way because of an absence of care but rather because she knows exactly what it means. Celine knows what she has to do and has every intention of achieving her goals in spite of, or rather because of, her own fear.
Sebastien Saint Germain is a rough character who believes nothing good lives in him. Despite his best efforts it adds an admirable quality to him that even he can't recognize. He is an electric character that makes Celine's, and even the reader's, pulse quicken. As a character, Bastien makes a perfect addition to the alluring scene of the book. He is everything one craves in a character of a paranormal book: dark, sinful, and begrudgingly handsome - a fact Celine notices immediately.
Chemistry between Celine and Bastien is instant, even when they both barely know each other. There's an undeniable passion between them instantly. The author is great at portraying the fluctuating state of Bastien and Celine's relationship throughout. From the start there is a balance of power between them in the way a woman of this period craves. This is important because of the way power is a pivotal part of the plot line and how a man can wield it differently from a woman, in a way that every woman desires.
Sensuality is laced through every word spoken or thought between Celine and Bastien. The pair are magnets that share a sense of themselves. Celine's reflection of her own demons adds a realistic element to a romance that has something to it from the moment her and Bastien meet. Scenes of hot chemistry, even as minuscule as they may be, are written so as to make the reader's breath fall out fo rhythm.
La Cour Des Lions, the group at the center of the narrative, are as mysterious as they are intriguing. They're at the heart of the book and all the darkly fantastical happenings. The truly fantastical elements take a while to arrive but they are built up and well worth the wait. There are the barest hints of these moments spread across the pages that give the reader a taste of the magic to come. The mythology is more vague than is usually provided in writing, but it doesn't feel like a lazy attempt to half-ass a world. Instead it adds to the mystery.
It is established at his entrance that Detective Grimaldi has a give and take relationship with his surroundings. He surreptitiously releases information in a calculated manner meant to influence those around him. His transformation as you read is the most magnificent I would argue to behold. He becomes someone you want to encounter as opposed to one you would wish to avoid. He quickly became a character I wanted to root for as the narrative progressed.
Character entrances are as grand as the city they take place in. Casts of characters are diverse and vibrant in a way that brings them to life. Everyone is so full of brightness even given their outward inclination for the dark. The secrets carried by the characters are pitched in black and gravitating. They struggle with their sins and the meaning of salvation if it exists. The darkness that consumes every aspect of the story falls like a heavy weight on the characters, yet it somehow makes them all the more real.
The switching Pov's allows for a better glimpse into the characters and the lives they lead outside the main character's consciousness. Renee Ahdieh writes POV's so as every individual has their own defining voice that can't be mistaken. Threads of intrigue weave through the internal monologues of all those on the page - each so different from one another that you immediately know whose point of view is being presented.
Chapters in the villains point of view are compelling and make the reading all the more interesting. The villain's perspective is riddled with an underlying danger that makes the reader weary. The unknown villain's discussions to themselves of their humanity is compelling in the way it highlights the spiral into madness - something it's clear none of us are immune to.
No detail goes unnoticed as they are all utilized to craft a complete picture of the events happening. All that is described is painted with lush strokes that cement the reader into the setting. The atmosphere transforms even the most mundane of moments. Some may find the beginning to be "boring" or slow but I did not find that to be the case. There is a steady climb that progresses through the story.
Presented dialogue between the characters is a delicate dance of wits much like a game of chess. All the emotions that race through the characters are so real and tangible that they become the reader's own. Renee Ahdieh's ability to execute conflict that makes the reader's heart pound is unrivaled. The author knows how to take a moment so beautiful in its ability to become alive from the page and have it follow a completely different path than expected.
Desperation tinges every word the closer to the ending we get. We feel the dire nature of the circumstances and are unable to look away from the ensuing chaos. Celine's actions, while they may be bold and brash unlike what a reader could imagine doing, remain consistent to her character.
Even though I picked up The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh very late in the year it has quickly become a new favorite read of mine for 2019. The story is everything one wants in a vampire tale and more. The characters are ones you come to love and admire no matter their flaws because of the author's ability to make them oh so human - in contrast to their very existence. It is a book I cannot recommend enough to anyone who loves a darkly tantalizing paranormal fantasy.
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