Author Renée Ahdieh pays homage to Anne Rice's thrillers in this period New Orleans-set vampire romance that features a clever, diverse, and sexy cast of characters. In her author letter, Ahdieh acknowledges how much she loved Rice's Vampire Chronicles (the most famous of which is Interview With a Vampire), and it's clear she is in some way recreating and refreshing Rice's themes and locations in The Beautiful. Even the title is familiar -- both a description of the gorgeous La Cour de Lions crowd and a nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned (The Damned is also the name of this book's follow-up, out in June, 2020). But instead of being about rich young socialites who suffer a downfall in Jazz Age New York, this is about a young woman caught up in the world of rich supernatural socialites in post-Civil War NOLA.
Ahdieh is wonderful at building romantic tension, and Celine and Bastien share a palpable slow-burn chemistry from their first encounter onward. Occasionally there are repetitious descriptions of Bastien's devilish charm, Celine's "inner creature" (obviously her growing desire), and their push-and-pull feelings for each other. Most of the characters have culturally diverse backgrounds, New Orleans having been a melting pot of that era, and both Celine and Bastien speak more than English on a regular basis. The pacing adds to the sense of peril and the mystery of who is committing all the heinous crimes. As for the romance, the burgeoning love triangle is an unwelcome but standard feature in speculative teen fiction. One minor complaint is that while Celine's and Bastien's ages make sense, the age of Michael, Celine's other suitor and Bastien's best-friend turned rival, seems unrealistically young (teen detectives?). It's also hard to believe anyone would want Celine and Michael to end up together, no matter how great his Italian grandmother is in that one scene. Ahdieh captures the spirit of New Orleans and the allure of being free of societal restrictions based on gender, class, or perceived virtue. Readers will be ready for the next and final installment, which should answer burning questions and result in a happier ending.