The Beautiful Ones experience can best be translated as author Moreno-Garcia channeling Edith Warton while taking liberally from Dangerous Liasons and Wuthering Heights, and then adding mystical realism randomly. Sadly, it just didn’t work and I have to admit it often felt lazy to cherry pick history into an anachronistic mess of a romance AND then add magic on top of it.
Story: Nina is a free spirit in a constricted society. When she falls for telekinetic showman Hector, she doesn’t know he has a secret history with her haughty and beautiful sister in law, Valerie. The three will dance around each other and society as Hector makes moves on impressionable Nina in order to get closer to his former love, Valerie. But Valerie gave up poor Hector in order to marry a wealthy man of high standing – a man she finds boring and despises secretly. While Nina grapples with having telekinetic powers in a society that frowns upon women having them she also innocently believes Hector returns her affections.
I hate to say this is a romance because it really isn’t. Rather, we have a story of a high society and those moving around in it trying to maneuver to attain their own goals and greed. We’re supposed to like Nina and cheer for her as she falls for Hector – and hope Hector comes to his senses and sees the true treasure is Nina and not the vain and manipulative Valerie. But honestly, Nina felt TSTL (too stupid to live) and Valerie was almost a cliche bully. This was high school with Valerie the mean cheerleader, Nina the ingenue, Valerie’s husband the quarterback, and Hector the rising star. Add in the mean girls and the backstabbing, jocks being manly and stupid, and innocents getting trampled in the process. Except mannered in the belle epoque style.
What it all came down to is that the ‘magic’/urban fantasy/magical realism was random, underused, and superfluous. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in magical realism (really the point, actually) but magical realism needed that second word – realism – in there. And The Beautiful Ones had none of that. This was cobbled together ideas from well known society novels from the turn of the century and then telekinesis was added because – why? The Beautiful Ones might have worked had the author stuck to one historical milieu and been true to it other than the hint of paranormal. But to create (and I use that word liberally since this novel ‘borrows’ from too many societies) a world and then not even make it distinct feels lazy.
If you enjoy a Warton novel, I think you will enjoy this. It’s a slow burn romance and play of wills. If you are looking for the typical YA adventure and romance, I can’t help but feel you will be disappointed by this well trod game of selfish men and conniving women. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.