Beautiful Ones Hardcover – 24 October 2017
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- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250099064
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250099068
- Product Dimensions : 16 x 3.02 x 23.95 cm
- Publisher : Thomas Dunne Books (24 October 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: 270,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"Moreno-Garcia fills her fantastic novel of manners with sumptuous language...Readers who enjoyed Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories magical Regency series will be particularly enthralled by the genuine emotions evoked in the course of the unsustainable love triangle." - Publishers Weekly
"Overflowing with delicious melodrama ... a great fit for fans of the 18th-century French classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses." - Library Journal
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I'll admit that it took me a while to get into this one, and I think that's because this isn't quite the book I was expecting it to be. With the mention of our heroine's telekinetic powers and her being taught to hone them by a man who also has this skill, I thought more of the novel was going to be taken up by lessons and that Nina was going to end up assisting Hector with his performances. Instead this Fantasy of Manners has more to do with the manners than the fantasy, like a Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen novel with a splash of telekinesis thrown in, which isn't a bad thing at all, it just wasn't what I expected when I read the blurb.
I was also a little unsure of the setting. I couldn't work out if this was France with a dash of magic thrown in, or if this was an alternate France in an alternate world a little different from ours. It didn't throw me too much, and in all honesty this isn't the kind of book that needed a lore dump, but I would have liked to know a little more about the world and more about how society functioned outside of these wealthy families.
Ultimately this was more of a character-driven novel than anything else, and while I always choose character over plot I would have liked a wider plot outside of these characters that I could sink my teeth into. Having said that, the characters and the character development were fantastic. Perhaps it says something about me that my favourite character in this book was the villainous Valérie, who was so deliciously messed up. I'm not the biggest fan of villain stories because I don't like it when authors try to excuse villainy with a tragic past, but what I loved about Valérie is that while Moreno-Garcia tells us why she is the way she is, she never uses it to excuse her actions which, by the end of the book, are downright evil.
It's also a testament to Moreno-Garcia's skill as an author that I initially disliked Hector and the way he used Nina, only to later root for him once we'd learned more about him. He's a character that grew on me, much like Nina grew on him.
If you're in the mood for a Fantasy of Manners/Romance novel, then this is the novel you should pick up. It's a story written with such affection and while it isn't my favourite of Moreno-Garcia's, I still think it's worth checking out.
Nina and Hector are fascinatingly real characters - as is Valerie - and I disliked the latter almost more than I liked the two protagonists. Valerie is a poisonously jealous, possessive woman who seems never to have grown up and clearly has no idea how to be happy, and any compassion I initially felt for her was burned away by how vicious she became during the course of the tale.
Nina, by contrast, is sweet, charming, and a young woman who grows to know her own mind and be certain of herself. She also grows into a very talented telekineticist. Hector, unlike almost everyone else, doesn't treat Nina's telekinesis talent as a nuisance or something to be hidden away, but then he has made a considerable fortune at putting on shows demonstrating his talent after leaving his home town a talented yet penniless boy who had fallen in love with Valerie a decade earlier. He sets out to earn sufficient money to woo her but in the meantime, because their relationship has been secret, she is obliged to marry Nina's older cousin, Gaetan, who is of a wealthy family.
The four characters' romantic lives are somewhat entangled, but in the end, Hector and Nina are able to marry, and Valerie is separated from her husband, who'd been outraged when he learned that she had sought to have Hector killed in a duel by the young man with whom Nina had been about to become engaged
Firstly, Nina and Hector have more in common than he first perceives. Hector earns his fortune on the stage manipulating objects with his mind, and Nina also has a strong gift. However, while it might be fine for a man to lift cards, mirrors, and even sharks with his mind it is improper for a lady to do anything similar. And Nina's tendency to cause minor disasters with her powers has earned her the nickname 'The Witch of Oldhouse'.
Nina's powers are part of what initially connects the two. Nina knows Hector by reputation, and as Hector starts to teach her how to control her powers Nina genuinely begins to fascinate him even as he pines for Valérie. However, their powers are far from the focus of the story, and there's never a traditional science fiction action plot wrapped into this novel. While I'm used to seeing science fiction which includes romantic plots, The Beautiful Ones is more of a romance with a touch of science fiction. I found the decision to flip the usual balance of science fiction and romance fascinating; an exciting reminder of the continued possibilities that exist within all genres.
Told from the constantly alternating perspectives of Hector, Nina, and Valérie, The Beautiful Ones allows the reader to get under the skin of each character. Even at their most unsympathetic all three characters come to life. By the end of the novel, the reader is presented with a sharp, smart look at a group of flawed, interesting, often lovable people who have been transformed by the journey they have taken together. Nina's chapter, at the end of Part One, provides probably one of the most well-paced images of a woman rebuilding her life that I've ever read. Although Valérie is, by the end of the novel, quite a monster I felt intensely connected to her because the reader is allowed so much insight into her internal conflict and complexity. Valérie's story highlights the damaging nature of the strictures placed on women, and also the personal damage that everyone is capable of inflicting on themselves with little outside help. I even came around to Hector as he began to understand his mistakes, and try to slowly start his life again.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia has created a smart meditation on love with Hector, Nina, and Valérie each coming to realise they know very little of what love means. Hector's relationships with Valérie and Nina both reveal two very different forms of affection, as do Nina's romances with Hector and another suitor. Through these different relationships, the novel both sets up a definition of true love, and reveals the pitfalls and pleasures of other types of romance. Part Two is a deliciously slow arc of about rebuilding trust, and learning what love looks like. I doubt it can be bettered.
The Beautiful Ones is an emotionally intelligent novel that orbits around a tender, slow romance. It's also fun, fast, dramatic, and I couldn't put it down for two whole days. One not to miss whether you like romance, science fiction or both.
I don't consider myself a romance reader, so my knowledge of genre standards, etc. is a bit lacking (so, if you are, I might make you mad by mixing up some things about the genre in general in this review). That said, here's what I can say about THE BEAUTIFUL ONES...
The first 100 pages felt very slow. I really wanted something more to happen--my previous experience with the author's work definitely colored that expectation, but I did my best to focus just on this work and what was going on. When the first major event (by my feeling) unravels just around the 100th page, I felt a LOT of emotions I didn't expect. That's when I realized all the work that was actually laid out in that 100 pages, so expertly. Where I thought I didn't care about the main character, I discovered I had very much--and very subtly--connected to her through the events building to that moment.
I would describe this book as a Regency Romance and mean it in both the sense of the romance novels that rose up in the 1960s that took place during the Regency era with all those cultural touchstones of high society courtship, etc. AND with Jane Austen's work in the sense of it being a 'novel of manners' and a slower pacing.
For a touch of the 'weird', there is a little bit of telekines in this world. I particularly enjoyed the way it was woven into the story as just another fact of the world, just like the ebb and flow of social seasons and social standing. I could very much have enjoyed more exploration of what that's like in this setting, but understood how there wasn't room for it in this particular story.
If you like Austen & Bronte and are looking for a slower paced romance that doesn't start replacing story with sex scenes once the love interests get together... I heartily recommend THE BEAUTIFUL ONES.