What a strange little book.
The Beautiful Ones is the story of three people: Antonina “Nina” Beaulieu, her cousin Valerie, and the telekinetic performer Hector Auvray. Hector and Valerie have a tragic romantic history, and when their paths cross again during Nina’s first Grand Season in the big city, she is drawn, unwittingly, into a romantic triangle with the two of them. At its heart, The Beautiful Ones is pretty standard romance.
It has some noteworthy trappings, however. It appears to take place during La Belle Epoque, although the places in the novel don’t actually exist in real life (I think). Everyone has a French-sounding name, as do most of the places, but the way everyone was acting almost reminded me of a Jane Austen novel (a lot of talk about what’s proper and improper, people marrying to save their impoverished families, that sort of thing). There’s also an almost incidental fantasy element, with certain people–Hector and Nina among them–having a gift for telekinesis. This is how Hector earns a living–he performs onstage levitating and manipulating objects. Other than Hector’s job, there’s really no reason for this element, and it doesn’t add much to the story. I think overall it was detrimental, as I found myself wondering several times what the point of introducing the telekinesis was. It ended up being crucial to the climax, but I think it would have paid off better if a little more attention had been paid to it throughout the story.
I don’t read a lot of romance, so I mainly picked this up for the period element and the fantasy. The Beautiful Ones was not what I expected, but I did enjoy it. Nina is really a delightful character. She’s plucky and spirited, kind, and has this endearing love of insects and nature. Hector is also a complex, interesting character. It’s Valerie (the antagonist) who brings the book down. For the first part of the book, I felt a lot of empathy for her and her situation in life, but as the book goes on she becomes so cartoonishly villainous that it impacts the story in a really negative way. Nina and Hector feel like real people; Valerie ends up a caricature, and it’s a shame. Still, I did enjoy this book overall and added another by Silvia Moreno-Garcia to my TBR list, which is a pretty good endorsement.