Antonina ‘Nina’ Beaulieu is a young lady staying with her cousin and his wife, Gaétan and Valérie, for the grand season of society where ladies seek to find a suitable match and marry. Enter Hector Auvray. Hector and Nina meet at a ball and whilst Nina is smitten, Hector has other ideas. He learns Nina is the sister-in-law of his lost love, Valérie Véries. He concocts the plan of courting Nina to gain access to the family home in order to reunite and reconnect with Valérie.
”I will do everything in my power to ruin you, and I guarantee I will succeed. All a woman has is her reputation, and you won’t have one shred of it once I’m done with you.”
The Beautiful Ones is my third Moreno-Garcia novel and I absolutely adored it. I’d describe it as Bridgerton meets telekinetic performances. There’s the innocence of first love, dastardly and scheming relatives, love’s cruel deceptions and one heck of a love triangle. It’s a loaded plot to say the least.
The story unfolds through the perspectives of Nina, Hector and Valérie, and the structure of the book is divided into Parts 1 and 2. The divided parts give a time jump of an entire year, which with the love triangle’s steady and slow burn developments, allowed for great pacing and a more believable reception as nothing felt rushed.
Though, I must say, bookworms shouldn’t expect this to be equal part fantasy, as for me, it was predominantly historical romance. The telekinetic aspects don’t play much of a role in the story other than a means for the characters to connect and for the characters to earn money or be the subject of judgement by elite society.
Now, for our love triangle. It was a kalidescope of emotions. It was brilliantly done and so compulsive. Hector is torn between his devout loyalty to Valérie and the growing affection he has toward Nina. Nina and Hector were like Pride and Prejudice, with the tentative to and fro, and two steps forward and five steps back. I really loved that Hector and Nina had a friends to lovers build, all the while Hector was still longing for Valérie and wondering if she’d run away with him. Honestly the level of angst was unreal. It’s a love triangle of toxic and dangerous proportions. I was humming and hawing about how I wanted it to end, but by the end, I was completely invested and found the ending extremely satisfying.
What stole the show was the characters. By the climax I cared about Nina and Hector, and was beguiled by Valérie, so much so I was really invested in riding the train to the end of the line. At least at one point in the book, I felt sorry for all three of our protagonists, most especially Nina.
Nina was as golden hearted as they come. She’s dreadful in recognising social cues and the expected etiquette of her gender and standing. But she’s intelligent, caring and incredibly witty. Her perspective was a joy to read. I loved seeing her character development between the first part and the second; taking on life’s lessons and finding her voice.
Despite being a telekinetic performer/showman, Hector doesn’t perform the usual societal flattery and indulgences. He grew up a poor man, so isn’t in the old money-elite class, but is a gentleman in every other sense of the word. On one hand he’s reserved and polite, but he’s also a true romantic and a dreamer. He couldn’t let go of this idea of love with a woman who society would esteem perfect. He prescribed onto Valérie his adoration of what a great love is and their memories of young love, and is now blinded to truly see reality by this fantasy. He’s either foolish, irrational, or a dreamer… how could I not feel sorry for him?
However, Valérie is one of the most enjoyable characters I’ve read in a while. She has a cold, scheming and malicious side to her Moreno-Garcia gradually and smoothly developed so its reveal was intense, palpable and totally understandable. Valérie resents Nina’s natural born wealth and the freedom of being able to choose life paths that were closed to Valérie. This resentment is worsened by Nina’s youth because Valérie feels Nina is an embarrassment and unsophisticated, and subsequently wastes the potential being young affords, combined with being wealthy too.
Valérie’s manipulations and orchestrations made me furious. It’s great storytelling but my gosh my blood pressure! You can see it’s from the same mind as Mexican Gothic, because although the story appears to amount to a complicated love triangle amidst scandalous family dynamics, there are trace elements of light horror through the way Valérie acts with her cruelty toward Nina. It was sickening the way she behaved, how possessive she was of Hector and it was truly terrifying seeing how dismissive she was of other people’s feelings. She was the ultimate puppet master, who in many ways, reminded me of Iago in Othello. It was excellently done – especially when Moreno-Garcia was still able to evoke sympathy for Valérie.
The Beautiful Ones was scandalous and masterfully crafted. I loved it. I’ll happily reread it again in the future and it has ensured Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an author I’ll never miss.
Thank you kindly to Jo Fletcher Books and Netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.