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.
It’s always a treat to find a book that blends genres seamlessly. This is certainly the case with Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones, which tackles class structure, expectations, and magic alongside the consequences of first love (and heartache). I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for historical romance novels, devouring everything from the original Bridgerton books (and more recently the Netflix series) to Tessa Dare and Cat Sebastian’s newer forays into the genre. Due to my fondness for them, so it was no surprise that The Beautiful Ones–filled with to the brim with romance and drama–was right up my alley.
Originally published in 2017, The Beautiful Ones returned to print in April 2021, allowing Moreno-Garcia’s historical romance novel to find a whole new audience in the wake of Mexican Gothic’s (2020) well-deserved success. If nothing else, this book proves that Moreno-Garcia can tackle just about any genre (or genres) in her work. In this novel, she explores a budding romance between two gifted telekinetics rife with secrets. What happens when a courtship is based on a lie? And how do you grow from your first love (and first heartbreak) without letting it consume you? These are the questions Moreno-Garcia asks in her novel, giving readers a glimpse into how the choices we make shape our lives.
With a shifting point of view between the three leads of the book, the reader gets ample perspectives on the events as they unfold. It offers a complicated picture of characters and their relationships with one another. The characters themselves are enjoyable, especially as they are initially set up as foils to one another. There’s an interesting dichotomy among them as they offer insights and small reflections as to their position within Loisail’s society.
Nina is young and uncertain of her place in society, especially coming from a rural (if affluent) upbringing. Her abilities as much as her temperament place her on the outside of high society, though she isn’t sure how much she wants to be part of it at all. She contrasts neatly with Valerie, whose family name means more to her than anything. Wife to Nina’s cousin, Valerie is a package of societal expectations and proper décor, at least on the outside. These two women hold similar societal positions, but their familial relationships, desires, and insecurities set them on vastly different paths.
Then there is Hector: successful, self-made, and still chasing ghosts of his youth. He has honed his telekinetic abilities as an internationally renowned performer. Hector appears to be the equivalent of a traveling magician but with real power behind the scenes. However, in this world his powers aren’t considered all that unusual, as these abilities are well-known and actually considered to be an aspect of polite society. Originally, I felt as if Hector was slightly overwrought but the character grew on me, especially as he interacted with Nina more and more.
My main critique of the novel is that the antagonist fell from complicated and empathetic into a simple villainous machination. It was a disappointment in comparison to the other, more nuanced portrayals of the characters. I wanted a bit more from the character, especially as casual cruelty gave way to some truly reprehensible behavior. Sometimes, though, there are just cartoonishly evil people in the world, and The Beautiful Ones reflects that.
The fantastical elements of the story remain on the back-burner for most of the book, adding flavor to the text and world-building without being a major element of the plot. Devoid of the magical elements, this book functions nearly the same–as a lush and often melancholy historical romance novel. However, that isn’t a complaint! Those elements tie into the plot (and the themes of the book) seamlessly, enriching it instead of becoming distracting or allowing the story to lose focus.
Telekinetic abilities are used almost exclusively for performance art and entertainment, even when the novel hints that there is far more power to be had. This is such a unique take on the idea of superpowers, and it deserves recognition. Moreno-Garcia also uses the abilities–and how they are acceptable when used by some while not others–to subtly critique society’s expectations of young women, as well as draw parallels to a class divide. It uses these fantasy elements in a manner not often seen in works like this.
Overall, I enjoyed The Beautiful Ones. A gorgeously written book, it combines lush prose and an intriguing world worth exploring. The novel has a slow start, but I suggest sticking with it! You’ll likely found yourself swept-up in the drama before you know it. I would recommend this for fans of The Outlander series. It’s perfect for readers craving that blend of magic and history while still focusing on the emotional depth (and overwhelming angst) of their main characters. It will certainly appeal to romance readers more than fantasy fans, though I don’t count this as a mark against it. The world of the book feels lived in, making it the perfect treat for cozy afternoon reading.