I first discovered Silvia Moreno-Garcia through her novel Gods of Jade and Shadow two years ago when it was a Book of the Month selection. I loved it, and last year, I loved Mexican Gothic just as much. This year, her fans have been quite spoiled: In addition to her brand new novel, Velvet Was the Night – which just came out and August and is currently near the top of my TBR – she also republished two of her earlier books. Between Certain Dark Things and The Beautiful Ones, both republished in spring, I was more drawn to the latter. I’ve only read three of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books so far, but I can affirm that she is masterful no matter what genre she writes in.
|The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia|
|Genre||Historical Romance; Speculative Fiction|
|Setting||Fantasy World: Loisail, Levrene|
|Number of Pages||295|
|Format I Read||Paperback|
|Original Publication Date||April 27, 2021 (reprint); October 24, 2017 (original)|
From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a sweeping romance with a dash of magic.
They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.
But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina — and himself — that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.
Unlike the other two books I’ve read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Gods of Jade and Shadow, which is a fantasy quest, and Mexican Gothic, which is a gothic horror laced with elements of sci-fi – The Beautiful Ones isn’t quite so fantastical, at least not in the same way. Sure, two of the main characters have the power of telekinesis. And while the two aforementioned books are set in Mexico, The Beautiful Ones takes place in a fantasy world much like our own. The names are different, but it’s easy to imagine them as what we know here on Earth. Perhaps Levrene is like a Western European country, say England or France. Maybe Iblevad is the United States, or the Americas overall. Further, this book seems to go back farther in time, evidently the very early 1900s.
As the author herself has described it, The Beautiful Ones is a book of manners. It plays out like a historical romance, but one that is more authentic to the time, even formal, as opposed to the steamy regency romances popular today. This writing style is perfectly crafted and intentional. It feels like it could have been written a century ago, not simply set in that time period. The language is precise and proper, it’s descriptive and detailed, and the third person narration never intrudes with emotion or judgment. We get an unbiased look at our three main characters, understanding their feelings and actions, but always kept just at arm’s length.
The Beautiful Ones follows three characters, each chapter focusing on one of them. First we meet Hector, a man who’s made his fortune performing his telekinesis skills in theaters around the world. He’s spent the last decade pining after his former fiancée, Valérie, and though she’s now married to another man, he hasn’t given up. He’s a serious and practical man, but he can be pathetic in matters of the heart. Nina is only 19 at the start of the book, a country girl who’s enthusiastic, curious, and bold. She’s an outsider in Loisail, and her uncontrolled telekinesis powers don’t help, but she’s a charmingly free spirit. Finally there’s Valérie: the wife of Nina’s cousin and Hector’s long-lost love. She’s calculating and controlling, and though she fits in perfectly with upper class society, there is little warmth in her heart.
The first third of this book was a bit slow for me. It wasn’t just due to the writing style, though that did take some getting used to. Rather, I had a hard time connecting with the characters. I liked Nina quite a bit, but Hector frustrated me and Valérie very much rubbed me the wrong way. Within this love triangle and web of lies, I could only see disaster coming.
However, the second two-thirds of The Beautiful Ones – including the latter portion of Part 1 and all of Part 2 – really picked up, and then I flew through the chapters. My, how the tabled had turned! Finally, the stakes felt higher and more compelling to me. There was more action and it was more fun. And perhaps most important for me: There was noticeable character growth.
Nina transformed from a naive, innocent, and romantic girl to a woman who’s had her eyes opened. She becomes more guarded and measured, but she also retains her fearlessness, candidness, and curiosity. She’s still endearing and bold, but also wiser and in more control. Nina really impressed me, and I admired her more and more up to the book’s end.
Hector also goes through some necessary changes. He was selfish, deluded, and desperate before. In Part 2, he also wakes up in his own way. It’s a tough time for him, but he comes out of it with his head and heart in the right place. Unfortunately, he’s still a bit of a coward, but Nina’s bravery can make up for that, can’t it?
In contrast to Nina and Hector, Valérie only digs in her heels on who she’s become (or maybe always was). In all honesty, I disliked her more with each chapter, but she’s a character you love to hate. I hate-read her chapters, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them. She’s that villain. Valérie becomes shockingly volatile as time passes, but I relished how things turned out by the end.
I’ll give a quick shoutout to three other characters who leave their mark on The Beautiful Ones. Gaétan: a gullible and sweet man who just wants everyone to be happy; he’s wonderful. Luc: a mixed bag, both beguiling and infuriating in his own way; he’s surprisingly important in Part 2. And Luc’s brother Étienne: a level-headed and kind friend; sorry he got caught in the middle for a while!
Although it took some time for me to get into The Beautiful Ones, I ended up really enjoying it. It offers strong character growth and subtle but effective world-building. The excitement really ramps up to the end, and as nerve-wracking as it could get, I love how everything played out.
I love that every Silvia Moreno-Garcia book is unique; she fearlessly moves between genres and styles. So far, I’ve loved all three of her books that I’ve read. In early October, I will read Velvet Was the Night (stay tuned for that review!), and I’m going to have collect her other novels: Untamed Shore, Certain Dark Things, and Signal to Noise. And next year, she’s releasing another new one, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. I’m looking forward to them all!
About the Author
Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow (Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, Ignyte Award), Mexican Gothic (Locus Award, Pacific Northwest Book Award, Goodreads Award), and others.
She has edited several anthologies, including She Walks in Shadows (World Fantasy Award winner, published in the USA as Cthulhu’s Daughters). Silvia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press. She co-edited the horror magazine The Dark with Sean Wallace from 2017 to 2020. She’s a columnist for The Washington Post.
She has an MA in Science and Technology Studies from the University of British Columbia. Her thesis can be read online and is titled “Magna Mater: Women and Eugenic Thought in the Work of H.P. Lovecraft.” She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.