Lovers of vampires rejoice, for Renée Ahdieh’s latest offering The Beautiful, a YA paranormal, historical fiction, features these fanged creatures in droves in this steamy and bloody romp through 19th century New Orleans.
When I first heard about this book, I was ecstatic. Historical fiction with a vampire mafia (I mean, come on!), the promise of passionate romance, and a murder mystery to boot? Count me in!
Alas, I wanted to love this book. I gave it chance after chance, hoping that the next chapter would whisk me away into vampiric bliss. Instead I found it to be a stifling and slow crawl through a story with too many underdeveloped characters, too little conflict, only whispers of romance, and an insufferable protagonist.
The story follows Celine Rousseau, a dressmaker from Paris, who had to flee to America after a tragic event and take refuge in a New Orleans convent. She quickly falls in love with the boisterous city— the sights, the smells, the danger— but struggles to conform to the ways of nuns in the convent. With her independent spirit and thirst for excitement, it is not long till Celine finds herself in the heart of New Orleans’ seedy underbelly, known as the La Cour des Lions, a lavish mafia-esque group of unnaturally beautiful illusionists and magicians. The leader of the group, Sebastian Saint Germain, quickly catches her eye, and something sparks between them. Something forbidden. Something tempting. As Celine battles her feelings for Sebastian and the ghosts of her own past, a body of one of the girls from Celine’s convent is found dead, and drained of blood in the lair of the La Cour des Lions. Panic ensues, more bodies are found torn apart as if by something not of this world, and Celine finds herself as the next target of a serial killer. It could be anyone, even Sebastian. Celine doesn’t know who she can trust, or even if she’ll survive the next morning.
Now, the biggest problem for me with this book is the pacing. The story spent too long of time with Celine milling about New Orleans without any real threat of danger. Sure, we had tastes of something lurking in the shadows, but there was no real threat to Celine or anyone we really cared about until well over halfway through the book. I found myself having a difficult time wanting to pick the story back up because it felt aimless. The last fourth of the book does pick up, and I did enjoy some heart-in-the-throat kind of moments. I just wished there were more of those sprinkled throughout the rest of the book.
I also do not care for Celine or Sebastian. I find Celine to be a little too arrogant for my taste and have a hard time relating to her. She is gorgeous, with an hourglass waist and a well endowed chest that everyone keeps raving about when they talk to her (and all the guys like her too, of course). She is independent and rude, but she gets praised for it. Everything feels like it revolves around her, and I just do not enjoy being insider her head. As for Sebastian, he also feels arrogant and a tad cliché. He is the mysterious, gorgeous, and dangerous male love interest, with the personality of a piece of celery. He may look all cool with his panama hat and nifty revolver, but he comes off as dead inside. The one character I do like is Michael, New Orleans’ leading detective. His straight forward, no-nonsense way of handling things made me very happy in a book full of indecisive people. Of course, it is not super believable that a less than twenty-five year old would be chief detective for a city, but I’ll let that slide.
I am also disappointed with the romance in the book. This book is sold as being passionate and steamy, but only trickles of passion made its way onto the pages. However, the love triangle between Sebastian, Celine, and Michael is one of the most interesting parts of the book, and I wish it was fleshed out more.
In fact, many different aspects of this story need to be fleshed out more. The whole illusionist/magician/supernatural being component does not feel explained at all. We find out why they are there, but not how it happened or how these immortal beings came to be. Also, the historical fiction piece is overlooked. The New Orleans in The Beautiful feels cut off from the rest of the world, as if it was its own country. The 19th century is brimming with rich and compelling historical issues and ideas, it would have been nice to seem them woven into the story.
Overall, The Beautiful does deliver on the vampires, and for that alone it may be worth picking up. The setting of New Orleans and the concept of a secret supernatural mafia are intriguing. Ahdieh also decorates her story with some lovely descriptions. So, give it a chance, and take a bite into the bloody and paranormal tale of The Beautiful.