How about a tale of love and jealousy in a fantasy land of the 1900s

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantasy romance novel set in a world reminiscent of 1900s France. It is all about high feelings, jealousy, missed opportunities and bad choices, very reminiscent of classic novels written in the late 1800s. 

When I saw it was the latest book from Moreno-Garcia I wanted to try. After Mexican Gothic, I didn’t want to miss out on another fantastic read. Admittedly, I am not a romance reader, this is really not my genre of predilection. I was mainly attracted by the promise of magic and mystery. I wanted to see another world created by Moreno-Garcia. I enjoy historical novels so I was ready for a plunge.

We follow Hector, who has been waiting for 12 years, painstakingly amassing a fortune, to be reunited with Valerie, the most elegant woman of the capital. Problem is she didn’t wait for him and took a rich husband instead. His solution: pretend to court her young niece, Nina, who seems to have the same power of telekinesis as him, to be reintroduced into Valerie’s circle, and maybe seduce her back. 

Big problem for me: the very center of the narrative is a romance, and as such it was a little difficult to keep my attention. All the fantasy elements and historical setting are just flavour details on the page and I’m really not used to that. I read classics that could be classified as romance, in a way, like Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell. But they’re more about society in a way, as a whole, gentil criticism of the time, rather than plain love stories. This wasn’t the case and I think I simply wasn’t the audience. 

The book was well written and I am sure many will love it. It has the usual back and forth and change of mind and I can’t decide, and this cannot happen and mistaken assumptions that all eventful romance should have. Many will no doubt find it very entertaining. It keeps you on your toes, even if ultimately we know what will happen. The situation grows more desperate and asks for more extreme measures. The pace and escalation of events is very well done and the characters are very believable. Nina is particularly likable, even if I think she could have been expended on more. Her feeling of inadequacy could seriously have been expended on more. We are told many things but not really shown any of the negative opinions people have about her magic until about halfway through the book. Her talent is presented as unseemly, but nothing more. 

I recommend it to fans of historical romance with just a hint of magic. The fantasy is so minimal it could be almost akin to have characters whose hobbies are stage performance instead. People who want a modernised Great Gatsby or The Red and the Black, should give it a go.

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