The Beautiful By Renée Ahdieh
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.
Celine Rousseau comes to New Orleans from France where she stays at a convent with other girls from Europe learning domestic skills until they find a suitable husband. Celine makes friends with one of the other girls – Pippa – but Celine finds it difficult to fit in with the other girls as Celine’s skills are in dress-making. Celine agrees to make a dress for a mysterious woman when she sees how wonderful Celine’s stitches are in a handkerchief. With the promise to make a dress for this woman, Celine and Pippa are pulled into the world of La Cour Des Lions. Meanwhile, a killer is on the loose, and Celine is falling for Sebastien Saint German, the beautiful, young leader of La Cour des Lions. Things are not what they seem, and may not be entirely human.
The world-building isn’t heavy-handed at the beginning – it’s very easy for the reader to get quickly immersed in Celine, her backstory, how she interacts with others, and what she thinks of herself. I loved Celine as a character, she’s very opinionated and strong-willed. She’s everything I pictured a Young Adult female character should be, she often speaks her mind and does not conform to societal norms.
What really stood out to me were the social norms that the author used in this novel. The mention of race and those of other ethnicities than white males were seen as lesser was touched upon quite frequently but was not heavy-handed. The chemistry between Celine and Bastien was perfect, I think Ahdieh knows the right amount of romance to add to this novel, and there is a mention of a love triangle (which I REALLY don’t like) but I found this one to be more palatable.
‘They’ll do the same thing they do with every unmarried girl who disembarks in New Orleans, carrying with her all her worldly possessions: they’ll find me a husband.’
But – as she’d come to realize in the past week – the things she wanted and the things expected of her were like oil and water in a baker’s mixing bowl.
When she realized he’d rendered her speechless – stolen the very breath from her tounge – outrage coiled in her throat.
Celine was tired of doing nothing but watching. Tired of wearing her own mask and being a mere observer to life.
‘Tell me, Odette, why must we wear corsets even while we eat?’
‘Because men enjoy keeping us in cages at every waking hour.’
Rage is a moment. Regret is forever.
The fairy tales of her childhood had been filled with lies. No man had come to her rescue tonight, as they always did in the stories.
Sometimes a girl must make her own magic.
I enjoyed this novel immensely. I loved Celine as the main character, and I want to see more of her and Bastien!
Let me know if you’ve read this book in the comments below!
Cups of Tea:
Tea Pairing: Black Jack from Serendipitea
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: October 8th, 2019