The Beautiful Ones
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.
But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina — and himself — that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.
NOTE: This review was first posted on my old blog in 2018.
I received an eARC of The Beautiful Ones from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know by now that I will read anything Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes after her debut novel, Signal to Noise, became one of my favourite novels of all time in 2015. The big lover of historical fiction that I am, you can imagine my excitement when I realised Moreno-Garcia’s third novel would be returning to a time of calling cards and ballgowns.
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 would be 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 needs a lore dump, but I would have liked to know a little more about the world and more about how society functions outside of these wealthy families. Then again, I am someone who generally prefers to see more of the working classes in my historical fiction.
The Beautiful Ones is more of a character-driven novel than anything else, though, and while I always choose character over plot I would have appreciated 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 Valérie, who was so deliciously messed up. I’m not usually the biggest fan of villain origin stories because authors so often excuse villainy by giving their characters a tragic past and, frankly, I think it’s boring. What I loved about Valérie is that we completely get why she is the way she is, but Moreno-Garcia never uses any of 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 so much, only to later root for 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, or a romance novel with a dash of the speculative, then this is the novel you should pick up. It’s a story written with such affection and even though it isn’t my favourite of Moreno-Garcia’s, I still think it’s worth checking out.