When Celine flees Paris for New Orleans, leaving behind a terrible secret and her plans to design "gowns for the Parisian elite," she dreams of finding the city "filled with promise. And absolution." She's bound for the Ursuline convent, whose sisters will find her an "appropriate" husband. Celine tries to see her stay at the convent as a "newfound chance at life," but it's difficult to be excited when she, her friend Pippa and fellow convent resident Anabel are put to work peddling crafts to raise money for the parish orphanage. At least Celine's ability with "ruched silk and Alençon lace" allows her to contribute embroidered handkerchiefs to the wares.
On the trio's first day of peddling, "exquisite" Odette buys all of her handkerchiefs and asks Celine to make her a gown for Mardi Gras. At Odette's fitting, Celine encounters Sébastien, who is handsome in the way of "a prince from a dark fairytale," along with members of the dangerous and "otherworldly" Court of Lions. But, tragically, Anabel--who had been sent by the Mother Superior to follow Celine--turns up dead, and Celine and Pippa find themselves suspect. Until the murderer strikes again, that is, and appears to be targeting Celine.
Renée Ahdieh's (The Wrath and the Dawn) Celine is a strong, deeply conflicted character who attempts to balance society's confining roles for women with her own appetite for excitement. Bad-boy Sébastien, with his "inhuman" friends, is a suitable foil to Celine, and the vibrant city of New Orleans an evocative backdrop for this first in a darkly thrilling series. As the unnamed narrator points out to begin the story, "New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead." By The Beautiful's end, readers will believe it. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI