Ahdieh, Renee. The Beautiful. New York: G.P. Putna’s Sons, 2019.
Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524738174 | 424 pages | YA Historical Fiction/Paranormal
The Beautiful is a vampire story arriving when pop culture has largely fallen out of love with vampires. And I think what makes this one work to an extent is that it leans on the older stories, like Anne Rice’s books, prior to the big Twilight boom (even if it did shamelessly plug it in some of its marketing).
It does take its time to establish the world, and vampires aren’t nearly as prominent in the story as you might expect. But in some ways it amps up the creep factor and Gothic atmosphere, especially with the occasional interstitial moments written from the vampire perspective in between those focused on the human characters.
However, I did find the characters themselves rather uninteresting. There’s a rather forgettable love triangle (the setup of which, along with some of the atmospheric tones, reminded me a bit of Phantom of the Opera), Celine has “secrets” which end up being underwhelming, and while there is some payoff on the vampire front (the best part of the entire story), it is of course left open-ended to set up the sequel.
And one of my major criticisms as far as characterization is concerned is the way culture is incorporated. Ahdieh’s previous books were so entrenched in the respective cultures of the Middle East and Japan, respectively, it’s odd that the only reference to diversity is a throwaway mention of Celine being half “Oriental” (I can’t recall it being given further clarification than that). While I didn’t go in expecting diversity, given the setting, I did expect a bit better representation of the diverse character(s) Ahdieh decided to incorporate once that statement was made, given her previous track record, and I just didn’t feel like I got that.
This book has seen a lot of divisive opinions, so I’m not really surprised to fall on the “this isn’t really for me” side of things, with the exception of the plotting itself and its usage of the vampire myth in a relatively cool way. I think, if you really enjoy vampires, it’s still worth checking out, as it does that part super well, and I do really hope that we see more of them cropping up again.