Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 448
Release Date: October 8th, 2019
Series: THE BEAUTIFUL, Book 1
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars – Didn’t Like It
Note: I was given a free ARC by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
When Celine arrives in New Orleans in 1872, having traversed the ocean from Paris, she’s hoping for a new lease on life. Fleeing a murder she committed in self-defense, she’s come to the New World to lead a quite, demure life and find herself a husband. But within days of arrival, Celine finds herself crossing paths with members of the mysterious Court of Lions, men and women from all walks of life who defy society and live by their own rules, and who seem to possess an unearthly power. But mingling with the Court of Lions (and in particular, with their leader Sébastian) comes with risks, for soon a string of murders are being committed across the city, and they seem to be happening to people connected to Celine. Celine must figure out why these murders are being committed, and what they have to do with the Court of Lions, before she ends up the next victim.
There is an excellent premise at the core of THE BEAUTIFUL, one that could have beguiled me for pages and pages. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the author chose to keep that premise buried in vague allusions and withheld information, blocking from view anything that would have made this book truly interesting and a worthy and engaging read. I feel like I can’t even discuss the true conflict at the center of the book because it isn’t revealed until the last 30 pages, and that in and of itself is the problem.
To back up a little bit, the vast majority of this story is told from Celine’s point of view. Withholding information makes sense: she’s new to the city, new to the Court of Lions, and as a stranger wouldn’t be told all their secrets. But within hours of meeting her, the members casually reveal that they are more than human – and then that’s it. That’s essentially all we’re told for the rest of the book. There are brief moments when they use their powers, and there are references to two factions, the Fallen and the Brotherhood. Having finished the book, I haven’t the faintest idea who is in those factions or why the factions exist or what they’re fighting over. As for what little information we are given in the climax of the book to explain the killer’s motives, most of it is information we should have been told in the first half the narrative. I truly believe that if those cards had been laid on the table early, and we could have delved into what that meant for the characters involved, this would have been a much more interesting tale.
As it is, the characters that populate this world are entirely forgettable, a truly unfortunate circumstance when their deaths are supposed to be haunting reminders that no one is safe. Indeed, a character that died late in the third act I could not have described a thing about, even though this death was supposed to be incredibly impactful. Celine herself has the makings of worthy heroine, and indeed towards the end of the book she does her best to be her own savior, to be proactive and put an end to the killing spree wreaking havoc on the city. But the first half the book is spent with her reminding the reader over and over and over that she is a “murderess” (despite having acted in self-defense) and therefore is in need of atonement. It’s such a resounding chorus that when she does things like find herself utterly smitten with the “dangerous” Sébastian mere moments after laying eyes on him, I got a bit of whiplash.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the author excels at creating ambiance. One of the things that had initially grabbed my attention when I read an excerpt from this book some months ago was the way in which Ahdieh did a wonderful job of painting a picture of New Orleans at night, weaving together the way the foliage and the street lamps and the general aura of the city merge together to create a place like no other. The ambiance alone sold me on the book, but unfortunately the frame did not surround material that kept me engaged.
It never feels fair to judge a book on what it isn’t, but in this case I feel it is justified because we can see the shapes of the world that is hiding just out of sight. I can see glimpses of what got the author excited to write this book, and I wish more of it had been shared on the page. I truly wish I could be more excited for what is here, but sadly, there just isn’t enough depth to the world we are introduced to for me to be able to recommend this book.