Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Beautiful - Renée Ahdieh

The Beautiful has been on my to-read list since I finished two other books by the same author (The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger).  

Summary: In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead.  But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans is a safe haven after she's forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris.  Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent in the middle of the carnival seasons, Celine is quickly enraptured by the vibrant city, from its music to its fancy soirées and even its danger. She becomes embroiled in the city's glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group's enigmatic leader, Sébastian Saint Germain.

When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in Sébastien's own lair -- the second dead girl to turn up in recent weeks-- Celine battles her attraction to Sébastien and suspicions about his guilt along with the shame of her own terrible secret.

After a third murder, New Orleans becomes gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose -- one who has now set Celine in his sights.  As the murderer stalks her, Celine finally takes matters into her own hands, only to find herself caught in the midst of an age-old feud between the darkest creatures of the night, where the price of forbidden love is her life.

At once sultry romance and a decadent, thrilling mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet.  (Summary from book cover - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  In The Beautiful a young woman named Celine Rousseau endeavors to escape her past and the brutal truth she fears will be uncovered by seeking refuge in the infamous French Quarter of New Orleans. Not long after her arrival, Celine makes the acquaintance of Sébastian San Germain and several other members of La Cour de Leons, and is quickly mired in scandal as a series of vicious murders seem to follow in her wake.  Inexplicably drawn to San Germain and into the mystery surrounding the murders, Celine becomes increasingly desperate to determine her own fate, and save those she loves, regardless of the dangers she may face.

The Beautiful is an instantly captivating, marvelously set, and sumptuously descriptive tale. If there is one thing Ahdieh excels at, it is 'world' building. I have never been to New Orleans nor have I visited the French Quarter (in the late 1800s or at any other time), but now I feel as if I have, at the very least, stayed a night or two wandering the dark streets, glimpsing the parades, sampling the cuisine, and drinking in the atmosphere.  On a completely related noted, I am totally craving beignets.

When it comes to female characters, I definitely have a 'type' and the overwhelming characteristic that all my heroines seem to share is sheer stubbornness (with 'sass' running a close second).  Celine is many things, but, first and foremost, she is a woman who is learning to stand her ground even when it might be more advisable to tuck tail and run.  I just love that! I also enjoyed the chemistry and back and forth between Celine and Sébastian. Their relationship gets steamy at times without being wholly inappropriate for the genre, but it does toe the line a bit (or at the very least it toes mine), so be sure to check out the "sensitive reader" section below if you are worried.

Ahdieh does an excellent job of not tipping her hand and straying into plot predictability and I enjoyed the book's puzzling cast of secondary characters. The author hinted at many characters backstories just enough to pique my interest but left much of their tales untold and ripe for more 'page time' in the next book or, failing that, *fingers crossed* their own novella. The antagonist was infuriatingly hard to pin down most of the time and stayed firmly rooted in the shadows for much of the book, which only made me more curious and kept me reading at a frantic pace hoping for a little illumination.  As far as endings go, I will say that I did not expect things to play out the way they did but found that I rather liked the twists as they came and look forward to reading more of the story.

Ultimately, I thought The Beautiful was a romantic, entertaining, and atmospheric read.  I liked it slightly less than The Wrath & the Dawn (which I gave 4.5 stars) but I am still invested enough in the story and characters to pick up the next book in the series, The Damned.  It's in my TBR stack right now and I will let you know how it goes.

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Around 10-15 instances of profanity, including several F-bombs and two crude British references to female anatomy.  Some sensual situations and innuendo and one very nearly sexual situation (interrupted).  One of the female characters makes a few comments that indicate her romantic preference for other women.  Two incidental female characters are found kissing in a garden (brief, non-detailed).

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