Audiobook Review: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (October 24, 2017)
Length: 12 hrs and 48 mins
Narrator: P. J. Ochlan
I’ve often been asked for advice from friends who are interested in giving audiobooks a try, but are worried that they might have trouble getting into them. In response, I always say that starting with a good book and a good narrator is key, but also important is finding a story well-suited to the format. While it’s true some books simply work best in prose form, there are also plenty of times where I’ve come across audiobooks that made me think, “Wow, I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed this as much if I had read the print version.”
The Beautiful Ones is the perfect example of such a book. As soon as comparisons to an Austenesque romance and descriptions of a Belle Époque-inspired fantasy-of-manners started floating about, I made the decision to listen to this one in audio, and I don’t regret that one bit. Featuring a slow-building love story and only a light touch of the fantastical, I might have become dreadfully bored by the long drawn-out expository sections on propriety and high society had I chosen to read this in print (not to mention all the endless romantic drama based on manipulation and miscommunication would have worn me down). However, a good narrator along with some excellent characterization ensured that I was never bored while listening to this audiobook, and the entire experience was pleasant, even relaxing.
Set in a world reminiscent of late 19th century Europe with inspiration from the pre-WWI “Golden Age” era of France, The Beautiful Ones introduces us to a tri of central characters. First is Hector Auvray, a telekinetic entertainer who has arrived back in the city of Loisail after spending nearly ten years traveling and performing abroad. Now rich and famous, he has returned to his home country hoping to meet up with his old flame Valérie Beaulieu, to whom he had been engaged when they were both young and penniless, but pressured by her family, she had ended up breaking his heart to marry someone else with wealth and status.
To Hector’s disappointment though, the emotional reunion he had planned for was spoiled when Valérie fails to show up to the high society ball he attends. Instead, he makes the acquaintance of another young woman at the gathering, the interesting but socially awkward Antonina who is in the city for her first Grand Season. It’s not until after the party that Hector learns, to his surprise, that Nina is the beloved cousin of Gaetan Beaulieu, the man Valérie ended up marrying. In fact, Nina is staying with the Beaulieus right now, tasked to learn the ropes of etiquette from Valérie, who is supposed to be helping the young girl find a suitable husband. But unfortunately for Nina, she also has telekinetic talents similar to Hector’s, which is considered inappropriate for a young lady of her stature. Along with her eccentric personality, they have a pesky way driving off potential suitors.
Yet Hector sees Nina’s powers as a gift—as well as an opportunity. Under the guise of courting her, Hector offers to teach Nina how to control her powers, when in reality he is hoping their relationship will help him get close to Valérie, convinced that she still loves him the way he still loves her.
I won’t lie, I wanted to throttle nearly everyone in this book, but in this they have something in common with characters in a soap opera—you just love to hate them. Likewise, I found it impossible to tear myself away from the drama, and I would even hazard to say I enjoyed The Beautiful Ones more than the author’s previous novel Certain Dark Things, despite this one being much slower paced and having none of the action. This is because Silvia Moreno-Garcia knows how to spin a good yarn, and more importantly, she knows what it takes to capture the reader’s attention. Rather than shy away from the usual conventions of the fantasy of manners genre, she instead revels in them, offering up a lavish feast of romantic melodrama, high societal punctilio, and weaponized etiquette. Within this context, the fantasy element almost feels like an afterthought, having little to no impact on the overall story.
Still, the novel came together very well. By taking such a huge departure from her previous work, Moreno-Garcia might have been risking a lot in writing something like The Beautiful Ones, but ultimately I thought it was a move that paid off. I practically hung onto every word, even though the plot played out exactly as I thought it would, with the requisite frustrations and misunderstandings between the characters. I’ve lost count of how many times I wanted to slap Hector silly or to shake some sense into Nina, and don’t even get me started on how much I absolutely loathed Valérie, but at no point was I not completely 100% invested in the outcome of their story.
Like I said, the fact that I had the audiobook version may have helped with my enjoyment, and the time simply flew by as I was listening to this. The only thing that might have made the experience better was if they had multiple narrators, one for each of the three POV characters, but then P.J. Ochlan also managed to do a fine job by himself so in the end I really have no complaints. If you’re looking for a fun fantasy of manners novel, The Beautiful Ones definitely fits the bill, and it’s probably one of the best ones I’ve read in a while.