By Elizabeth Ross, published by Hot Key Books.
Goodreads synopsis: When sixteen-year-old Maude runs away to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Increasingly desperate for money, she answers a mysterious advert: ‘Young Women Wanted for Undemanding Work. Apply In Person To The Durandeau Agency.’ But the work is very strange indeed. Maude discovers she is to be a repoussoir – an ugly young woman hired by Parisian socialites to enhance their beauty.
Maude is humiliated – but faced with destitution, what choice does she have? Quickly (and secretly) selected as the perfect companion for the Countess Dubern’s daughter Isabelle, Maude is thrown into a decadent world full of parties, glamour and astonishing cruelty. Maude finds that academic Isabelle is equally disenchanted with the Parisian social scene, and the girls form a tight bond. But when bohemian artist Paul and the handsome Duke d’Avaray are introduced into the girls’ lives, their friendship will be tested to its limits. The girls are about to discover the true meaning of being beautiful…
My Review: I don’t think I’ve read much set in France before, let alone a historical France, so Belle Epoque was a really interesting read for me! I was really looking forward to starting it as the synopsis sounded very different and also, the cover is just gorgeous (Just look at it! SO PRETTY!). I really grew to love the setting! Paris, France… I was thinking the whole thing would be quite glamorous, but Belle Epoque showed the darker side of historical Paris… which was hugely entertaining to read about. It was quite shocking, really: ‘Ugly’ girls are hired through an agency by rich Debutantes for parties- the rich girl hiring will look even more beautiful next to the ugly hired girl. Just- what? That’s pretty mean. The subject really interested me, though, so I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.
The plot was very well thought out, and very unpredictable. Though I could tell that Maude was most definitely going to be with this rich girl Isabelle throughout the book, there were a lot of shocks in store for me! I had guessed, a little way into the book, that Isabelle was going to be this sour, stuck-up, horrible rich girl who made life awful for Maude, who’d seek revenge somehow. However, I got that entirely wrong! Isabelle had this secret life, revealed to no one, and made her a whole lot nicer, and I grew to like her a lot more after that was revealed. I really loved that twist in the story. I really wasn’t expecting it! There were loads of other great twists throughout the story, keeping me reading. I loved the whole outcome: There were two heroes to the plot, really, and a great ending for both Maude and the employees of the Durandeau agency.
Maude was a character I struggled to like at first, unfortunately. I would have liked to know why, exactly, Maude had decided to leave, penniless, for Paris. She seemed a bit too confident that she was going to build this glamorous life and seemed a bit too shocked when it didn’t turn out her way. Then, I started to warm to her personality, as I got to know more and more about her through her joining the Durandeau Agency. She became a much more loveable character, whom I really wanted everything to turn out great for! I didn’t really understand why she fell in love with one man, but did understand one other, the Pianist. The love triangle created was pretty tense for Maude, and I was ecstatic when everything turned out how I’d hoped!
A character I also grew to love was Isabelle, I mentioned before how she was most definitely not what I had expected. She really wasn’t! I loved the secret side of her: I don’t suppose I can reveal much, or it’ll ruin the surprise, but her rebellious personality I could really relate to. She loved the kinds of things I loved, though she did it behind the back of her strict, marriage-obsessed mother. The rebel-thing going on with her added some tension to the story. I loved that! Isabelle’s unlikely friendship with Maude was just amazing. You’d never expect the two of them to become even slightly friends. However, I could see this bond between them towards the end of the story- the relationship they had was just beautiful, really, and laced the story with themes of unlikely bonds. I really loved it, more, I think, than I enjoyed the love aspects of the book!
Overall, Belle Epoque is a really great read. I enjoyed it a lot! Although I couldn’t really connect with the main character at first, I really got to love her, as well as Isabelle- and of course Paul, one love interest who was just brilliant! The plot was really great- loads of unexpected parts, and the narration (through the eyes of Maude) was really good too. I loved the setting, of historical France, going through a really interesting period of time (The time period was called La Belle Epoque- translating as Beautiful Time, for fellow non-French speakers! Thank the almighty Google Translate for that.), and the job Maude had in this was shocking, but also strangely intriguing. Elizabeth Ross most definitely did her research on this- details were so accurate. Reccomended to Historical fiction fans, or people who love great stories about friendship!
I received a copy of Belle Epoque from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.
ALSO: Hot Key Books have this absolutely beautiful book trailer for Belle Epoque! It’s really stunning. Go take a look at the beautiful trailer, people!