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The Beautiful Ones

October 30, 2017

Because I heard about it from a friend and read about it on a book blog twice in the same week, I searched out a copy of a newly-published book, The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, even though it didn’t sound like the kind of book I’d usually search for. I’d read it if it fell into my lap, sure—it sounded like a romance novel, and I’ve read plenty of those, usually from the paper sacks-full provided by the mother of a friend of mine.

And indeed, it is a romance novel. It has all the regency romance tropes–balls, fancy period dress, dandies, sophisticated society women, a simple country virgin, and an emphasis on “taste,” influenced by Greek and Roman classicism and the picturesque.

But The Beautiful Ones is also a paranormal romance novel, like Mary Robinette Kowal’s 2010 Shades of Milk and Honey. The hero and heroine of Moreno-Garcia’s novel are both telekinetic. Despite this paranormal aspect, however, the novels it most reminds me of are by Julie Garwood: The Lion’s Lady (1988), in which a white woman skilled in self-defense because she was raised by “wild” Indians captures the heart of an English lord, and Guardian Angel (1990), in which a female pirate manages to protect the man she is falling for while he thinks he is protecting her.

In Morena-Garcia’s novel, the sophisticated society women disparage the simple country virgin’s telekinetic talent. As a friend of the telekinetic hero puts it:
“But a lady should not attempt it, you realize as much. She toyed with a teacup at a reunion at Defornier’s house, making it float around, and smashed it against the floor. It was an accident, a tic, who knows, but in the end an embarrassing episode. The Beaulieus have money but everyone knows they have not been able to buy Antonina common sense or proper manners.”

Antonina, who likes to be called simply Nina, is a simple country virgin who likes “to rise early, sometimes even before the dawn. She’d go to the river and take off her shoes, walking on blades of grass fresh with dew. She’d watch the fireflies and listen to the birds as they began to chirp in the trees. These things brought her joy.”

Her beautiful cousin-in-law Valerie, who lives in a city much like London or Paris and has married for money, pretends to be helping Nina with her first “Grand Season” but is jealous that her own former lover Hector, who has now made his fortune with a telekinetic act (because it’s okay for a man to move stuff with his mind) has fallen for Nina. She tries to marry Nina off to a dandy, but in the end true love (and shared mind-talent) win.

The “beautiful ones” of the title are the sophisticated society folks who flock to Hector’s stage shows but are at best suspicious and at worst appalled by exhibitions of Nina’s uncontrolled psychic talent, not to mention her bent for naturalism.

A nice-enough updating of the paranormal romance genre, if you like that kind of thing.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2017 5:42 pm

    Yes! Much better analysis than mine! :–)

    • October 30, 2017 8:24 pm

      I was so intrigued by two people from very different parts of my life recommending this book in the space of two days! I thought about what you said about the magic being metaphorical and it’s possible, but a mere hint of that still doesn’t lift it out of ordinary romance novel territory.

  2. November 1, 2017 1:46 pm

    I’ll bite! 😛

    • November 1, 2017 9:02 pm

      It is good romance, just the sort of thing for a new mother. That’s the period of my life when my friend was bringing me bags full of books passed on from her mother. It’s hard to take an infant to the library as often as I used to go, before kids.

  3. Jenny permalink
    November 2, 2017 5:50 pm

    Is it implied that since she likes to walk barefoot in the grass, she’s a better person than the more sophisticated ladies who keep their shoes on? I mean, I’d be mortified if I smashed a teacup by goofing around with it, too.

    • November 3, 2017 9:27 am

      Yes, it is definitely implied that the simple country maiden is a better person than the socially ambitious, overly-decorated, and catty city sophisticates.
      The teacup smashing is because she doesn’t know how to control her talent, which the love interest conveniently teaches her, making her a more complete human being or something. At least she’s not repressed, which she definitely would have been had she married the dandy, who thought her talent was not ladylike.

  4. November 5, 2017 2:13 pm

    It sounds like it’s one of those books that contrasts one type of femininity (simple country lass!) against another type (elegant society dame) and adjudges one of them to be better and more sincere. Which, bleh, that is not my favorite thing. BUT the rest of the book sounds extremely fun and totally right up my alley.

    • November 5, 2017 2:45 pm

      I do think it’s right up your alley–so much that I’ve sent my copy to your mother’s address with the request that she share it with you! I’ll look forward to hearing what you think. The villainess is pretty one-dimensional, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t black-hearted women like her in the world.

  5. April 21, 2018 10:21 pm

    I finally got around to this one but the whole other woman trope + pitting one type of femininity against another became a little too much for me. I kind of DNFed it about two-thirds of the way in (just skipped to the last few pages to see what happens). I think I might go read other reviews of peeps who enjoyed it to see what I am missing!

    • April 22, 2018 7:37 am

      The other woman was a 2-dimensional mirage the real heroine’s true love had built up in his head. There was no rivalry, really, just an opportunity for the hero to look around and see that what he thought he wanted when he was younger wasn’t real.

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