Review: The Beautiful (The Beautiful #1) by Renee Ahdieh
This was my White Whale of 2019. I read an early extract and fell in love with it, but was unable to get my hands on an ARC to read ahead of release *choked sobbing* But the book was worth the wait!
About the Book
Publisher: Penguin Teen | Release Date: October 8, 2019 | Pages: 448
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy | Format: Hardcover | Source: Purchased
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.
At once a sultry romance and a thrilling murder mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet: The Beautiful.
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Narrative style: third person | Perspective(s): single (Celine with mystery Vampire POV)
Friends, I know this sounds dramatic, but CALL THE POLICE! I’ve been personally victimized by this amazing book. The writing is lush and captivating, the characters are vivid, and the chemistry between characters oozes off the page. Honestly, it has been three months since I read this book and I could write this review from memory. (Which is no small feat since I have the memory of a goldfish.)
The atmosphere of this book is all-encompassing. Set in 1870s New Orleans, the city comes alive for the reader. I’ve been there once and felt like the book transported me back onto its streets. The lush descriptions paint such a full picture of being there and draws in the senses. Food is an important part of the city’s culture so it has a place of importance in the story and how Celine experiences New Orleans. The city itself is definitely a character in its own right.
The pacing of the book is slow at first. You can tell that Ahdieh was focused on the atmosphere and slowly building it up as the plot progresses towards the climax. I was so enraptured by the characters and setting that I didn’t mind the pacing, but it may be difficult for some readers, especially if you are coming in expecting an action-packed vampire tale. I thought that Ahdieh did a fantastic job weaving tension into the narrative with the Vampire POV; I was hopelessly hooked from start to finish!
“I am not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, nor am I the worst thing I’ve ever done. Nothing in life is that simple.”
This is a narrative – barring the Secret Murdering Vampire POV – that delves into the inner thoughts and feelings of the main character Celine. At 17, she has fled her home in Paris to escape her past and start life anew at the Ursuline convent in New Orleans. Her past haunts her and she is fearful it will catch up with her. She’s at a crossroads of who she fears she will be (inner darkness) and who she wants to be.
“Every place she went, life insisted on confining her.”
Celine feels trapped by not only her past but also society and its expectations of her. It’s the 1870s after all, so her fierce and independent nature is looked down upon by pretty much everyone. The life she thought she would have is no longer within reach, but she isn’t quite sure she wants the one waiting for her either.
“Knowing who you are is necessary in order to determine who you want to be.”
The Beautiful draws on the multicultural history of the city and is gloriously diverse. I love the sense of feeling accepted and home that Celine feels straight away in NOLA because of it is a blending of so many cultures. This is historical fantasy done right: accurate for the times but not falling into the traps of being racist and sexist. Celine and other characters buck at the expectations of society, while others prefer subterfuge.
“She wanted to create something and be part of the world instead of merely observing it.”
I loved the characters of this book. Bastien and his Panama hat. Odette with her pretty dresses and pants “Some days I adore wearing corsets and dresses. But sometimes it pays to wear pants.” Pippa and her steadfast friendship to Celine. Every single one of them (and more) are fully realized with their own desires and backstories. Celine is just doing her best but she makes mistakes and is a flawed character, which I appreciate.
“You’re nothing like them. They’re leeches. You’re a lion.”
The romance and chemistry between Bastien and Celine is the slowest burn, and friends, I am here for it. Their chemistry oozes off of the page whenever they are in the same room, a certain kind of magnetism that I don’t often find depicted well in books. The longing and desire is intense. (Unrelated but I just remembered the ending of the book and am in need of the sequel right now.)
I know some people were disappointed that the plot kind of dances around the vampires, who don’t really show up until the end of the book. And that is a valid complaint, although for me I was so enthralled with Celine and her story that it didn’t bother me at all. For me, this was a compelling coming-of-age romance with some paranormal mysteries I wanted to uncover. There is a secret vampire perspective interwoven into the story and I was sleuthing to figure out who he was. Everything was built up so well to the climax and The Damned is set up so well, I need it. Now. Please?
I absolutely loved The Beautiful with every ounce of my being and it is one of my favorite books from 2019. I was swept away by the beautiful writing and transported 150 years into the past. I dream of beignets. And Bastien. But this is more than just a paranormal romance with vampires; it’s a coming of age story and love letter to the city of New Orleans. Celine, like the city, is biracial and This is a book where it pays to just be drawn into the narrative and just let it flow around you, answers do come at the end of the book and thankfully we have a short wait for The Damned.
Representation: biracial rep, racially diverse world, lgbtqiap+ (Odette is lesbian & also might be genderfluid)
Content warnings: attempted rape, blood, death, murder, violence
Have you read The Beautiful yet, or is it on your TBR? Who is your favorite vampire of all-time? (Mine is Spike!)