It’s 1872 and Celine Rousseau, who’s seventeen years old, has just arrived in New Orleans with several other girls who will work in a convent until they can make matches with respectable young men in the city. Celine is from Paris, where she made gowns for the upper class. She had to flee Paris, and her father, after a tragic event that she won’t talk about.
The work at the convent is boring, but Celine has found a new best friend — Pippa from England — and she’s fascinated by the sultry city of New Orleans, especially after she and Pippa meet a group of gorgeous and mysterious young people in the upstairs room of an elite restaurant. Celine is drawn to their beauty, sophistication, and power, especially to the young man named Sébastien Saint Germain, who seems to be their leader, as well as the richest boy in the city. It’s obvious that Sébastien is also attracted to Celine, but she knows he is violent, disreputable, and no good for her. Is it possible that Sébastien is the serial killer who is stalking and murdering young women in New Orleans? Celine is in more danger than she realizes.
Renée Ahdieh’s The Beautiful (2019) is a young adult vampire story that will probably appeal most to teenage girls who are looking for another Twilight. The story is engaging, but It’s got oh so much teenage drama — secrets, jealousy, lust, beauty, fashion, shallow romance, and the obligatory love triangle. Both the drama and the language are overwrought:
He was painfully beautiful. Not in the way of art or the way of poetry. But in the way of violence.
New Orleans is a perfect backdrop for any dark, decadent, supernatural murder mystery, but Renée Ahdieh’s New Orleans feels like the Wikipedia version. It’s got all the expected props such as Bananas Foster, café au lait, beignets, and of course the Saint Germain vampire legend. She could have made better use of her setting.
Celine isn’t the most endearing of protagonists. I think Ahdieh’s aim was to paint her as fierce and independent, but she came across as whiny, egocentric, thoughtless, reckless, fickle, and obsessed with power. Sébastien says he loves how witty she is, but I thought she was more rude and sarcastic than witty. Pippa, on the other hand, is much more agreeable.
As for Sébastien, who is only eighteen years old, he’s unbelievably worldly, sophisticated, self-assured, and experienced. Though he’s charming and can be sweet, he’s an alpha male who looms and towers over Celine, and even puts his hand around her throat at one point. Why do teenage girls think this is sexy? (Public service announcement: Girls, if a guy ever puts his hand around your throat, run away and never look back.) The other angle of the love triangle is the police detective, a young man who’s also around eighteen. How is he a police detective?
The Beautiful didn’t do much for me. I recognize that I’m not the target audience, but a vampire novel set in New Orleans should have been better than this. While it kept me entertained, I kept thinking of ways that it could be better.
The Beautiful ends with a major twist that I didn’t see coming. Since I have the next audiobook, The Damned, already loaded onto my phone, I think I’ll check in just to see what happens next, and hope this story gets better.
Listening Library’s audiobook edition of The Beautiful is narrated by Lauren Ezzo, whose performance I recently enjoyed in The Kingdom of Back. In The Beautiful, however, she uses a lot of different accents (like the city of New Orleans, the cast is quite diverse) and some of them were unpleasant. Some sound slurred or muffled. Her narration was painfully slow at times (especially for one character’s monologues), and I had to increase the playback speed significantly. I’m hesitant to recommend the audio version of The Beautiful, but if you’re thinking of purchasing it, try a sample first and make sure you are using an app that allows you to increase the speed.