The Beautiful Ones: Book Review

Nina Beaulieu is in beautiful Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she’ll try to snag a husband with the help of her cousin, Valérie. She rebuffs most of her suitors, but when she meets telekinetic Hector Auvray, he becomes her favoured suitor. But Hector and Valérie were once engaged, and he has returned to exact some kind of retribution for her faithlessness.

Now, The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is promoted as a fantasy and a romance, but leans far far far toward romance. In this alternate history, some people are born with psychic abilities; two of our heroes have the power to move objects with their mind. Nina lacks control; it is frowned upon for women to display these powers, and she is labeled a witch. Disappointingly, that is as far as it goes. The focus is on the romance; while Hector helps teach Nina to control herself, and it serves her well in the end, it ultimately is window dressing for a romance novel.

That isn't to disparage the book for being a romance. I’m not a huge fan of the genre because it is often formulaic and I feel like if I read one, I’ve read all of them. The set up for The Beautiful Ones is very interesting, and I was hoping it would break the formula. The first half felt like it would, but in the end I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping that after finding out about Hector and Valérie, Nina would strike out on her own as a telekinetic performer and break barriers down for psychic women. Maybe she’d reconnect with Hector later, maybe Valérie would leave her husband for Hector and renounce the strict expectations that forced her into marriage. When another suitor for Nina shows up, I was hoping he was actually conspiring to fix everything up for poor Nina and then bow out.

Alas, it was not to be. The second half becomes your bog standard romance. Valérie is cold but not completely unsympathetic in the first half, but in the second half she becomes a psychotic villain. Nina is a pure virgin, whereas Valérie is not afraid to use her sexuality to get what she wants. Hector stops being any sort of agent of his own; whatever happens, is because Valérie drives the plot with her mad schemes and Nina decides either not to put up with it, or acts rashly for maximum melodramatics.

In Moreno-Garcia’s favour, Nina is very much like a Jane Austen heroine. She doesn’t sit idly by, and once she knows what she wants she goes for it. I just wish Valérie was more than just your standard romance novel harpy villain, and that the story moved in a more subversive way. At first I found myself comparing it to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; both Hector and Maxim de Winter are haunted by their past and unable to let go, and Nina and Mrs. de Winter are standing the shadow of more beautiful, more refined women who are no longer in their love interest’s lives. But wherea Rebecca took an unexpected turn, The Beautiful Ones went down Romance Tropes Lane and took no more turns after that. Nina might have been fairly progressive for a heroine if this was published a hundred years ago, but for the most part in the end, gender norms and conventions were slightly bent but never broken, and justice is meted out in nothing but predictable ways.

I will also say Moreno-Garcia’s prose is wonderful as always. Often with books set over a hundred years ago, there is a temptation for the writer to try to mimic the prose of Austen or other classical writers, and it usually always comes up short. Moreno-Garcia’s narration and dialogue avoid this entirely, and stands on its own. There are no cheap imitations here, at least.

If you are a fan of romance, you might like it better than I did. While I couldn’t put it down, ultimately it ran too long for me and I was disappointed in the end. I’m very picky with romance, however, and you can do much worse in the genre. If you’re just looking for a romance that doesn’t challenge, The Beautiful Ones may be for you.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia will be published on October 24, 2017 by St Martin's Press and can be preordered wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.