Author: 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.
This story straddles the line between fantasy and romance as both genres are represented. The Beautiful Ones are the elite high society, featuring the most prominent families. People from lower classes are seen as lesser than and they believe themselves to be superior. This story takes characters that were married into the society, those that belong by birth, and those that are present, but do not “belong,” and weaves them together in a story about love, deception, and society.
Antonina (“Nina”) Beaulieu is 19-years-old and staying for the season with her cousin and his wife, Valérie. As she is from the country, Nina does not quite fit the profile of the elite, Beautiful Ones, with her lack of high society etiquette. Her mother sent her to the city of Loisail (a fictional city reminiscent of Victorian Paris) where Valerie is to teach her how to be a proper woman and to lead to obtaining a respectable marriage for Nina. She is a fantastically written character as she is naïve of the way of life in higher society, but she is comfortable with who she is and does not wish to compromise herself just to fit in. Although she is not accustomed to high society, she is still polite and respects those around her. Nina was a fascinating character as she had a unique interest as a naturalist, particularly entomology (beetles and butterflies). Additionally, she is a novice telekinetic in a world that accepts them as performers (males), but not for proper women.
While at a society party, she meets Hector Auvray, an older man, who is a world-famous telekinetic stage performer and is in town to perform at the Royal Theatre. Nina takes an immediate shine to him as she not only finds him attractive, but she wants to learn more about her ability. Things become complicated, as there is a secret connection between Hector and Nina’s family. Hector and Valérie were sweethearts over ten years prior to the story’s beginning. Before his claim to fame, he was a poverty stricken romantic with his eye on marrying Valérie. Due to her need to marry above her station, she promised to wait for him to have money, but ended up marrying another in the interim. Hector spend the next decade pining for his lost love.
Although the story focuses primarily on Nina, the story contains three perspectives: Nina, Hector, and Valérie. At first, I was unsure about the inclusion of Valerie’s side of the story, but all three are necessary to enjoy the overall picture. Although Valerie was written very well, she was a character that I greatly disliked from start to finish. On the other hand, you have Hector who I did not like at the beginning, but I grew to love as the story moved through each chapter. Nina was a character that I loved and sympathized with from start to finish, as she was an outcast that was just trying to find a place in the world. She goes through a lot throughout the whole story and you just wanted to root for her to have a happy-ending.
At first, Hector’s goal is to court Nina once he finds out her connection to Valérie. As he gets to know Nina, he ends up conflicted and has to figure out how to deal with the potential aftermath. Valérie, who has always been jealous of the privileges given to Nina from birth, while she has struggled, has her own agenda. Together the three characters create a dynamic tale and it becomes a story that toys with the readers emotions all the way until the end. Additionally, Hector and Nina share their telekinetic abilities, which adds a new layer to their romantic entanglements as Hector is accepting of Nina’s abilities and Nina is anxious to learn from Hector.
Overall, I love the in-depth look at societal expectations. Both Nina and Valérie are members of the higher society with the same expectations given to them, but they each handle them in their own way. I loved the general contrast between the two characters and their different approaches to interact with those around them. All of the minor characters were very well written and prominently featured to naturally in the story. Etinenne, Hector’s friend, and Etienne’s younger brother, Luc, were fun support for Hector and I loved their interactions with both Nina and Valérie as Etinenne was the more conservative and Luc was the more impulsive. Even Gaetan, Valérie’s husband and Nina’s cousin, was well done, even though he is not featured on the page right away. This is a very character driven book that was very difficult to put down and I ended up reading it in a single sitting! It is difficult to believe this is my first Silvia Moreno-Garcia, especially with her other famous works like Mexican Gothic so prominently read, but I absolutely was drawn into the world that she created in this story and would gladly read more!
**I want to give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Tor Books, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, for a review copy of this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**