The Beautiful Ones is described as a fantasy novel. It’s more accurately a romance set in AlternaFrance during the Belle Epoque. It has all the Regency Romance genre tropes. There’s Nina, the naive, innocent, independent, and feisty heroine with anachronistically modern values. There’s Hector Auvrey, the wealthy, handsome, hero wounded by bad romance and betrayal who courts her but does not love her. Of course, there is the villain Valérie Véries, Nina’s cousin-in-law and Hector’s former lover, a woman as evil as she is beautiful. And then there’s the wrong man, Luc, an ambitious, avaricious, but amiable man who is easily led by Valérie.
The romance consumes 98% of the novel. The 2% that is fantasy is the telekinetic powers shared by Nina and Hector. He helps refine her skills. I guess AlternaFrance’s made up town names is part fantasy, too.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is new to me and while the story has potential and could be interesting, it was not. I probably should have stopped without finishing, but it was a light, empty counterpoint to the many nonfiction books and challenging novels I have been reading. I was about to quit, looked at what else I am in the midst of reading, all of it serious nonfiction where authors use words like perdure and shrugged and went back to the candy.
But I am not happy with the book. Valérie is a one-dimensional monstrosity and her every motivation is explained in excruciating detail. Of course, everyone’s motivations are explained. Even the motivations that are hidden from themselves are explained to us because we can’t figure anything out for ourselves. This kind of tell, not show, prose plucks my nerves and makes me irritated. I always feel as though the author has no respect for the reader when the author does not allow us to understand anything on our own. If an author thinks so little of my discernment, I lose interest.
Let me give you an example, “Hector had spent so many years being the man who loved Valérie that he could not conceive of becoming anything else. She was a goddess at whose feet he worshipped, and to cease in his adoration of her would imply he had spent a decade following a false idol.” This kind of deep psychological insight is something we are supposed to figure out on our own, not have it handed to us. Here is another, “In acknowledging the depths of her hatred, Valérie was simultaneously able to, perhaps for the first time in her entire life, admit the extent of her love for him.”
This is just bad form. It deprives readers of their role. Reading a book should not be passive. We are not empty vessels to fill. We are active participants in reading, bringing to bear our own life experiences and understanding of humanity. If that role is taken from us, why are we reading?
I received an e-galley The Beautiful Ones for review from the publishers through NetGalley.