Title: Belle Époque
Author: Elizabeth Ross
Published: September 2013
Released by: Hot Key Books
Rating: 4 stars
Opening line: "Perfect, just perfect," says the stout man.
Closing line: This is my time, my beautiful era, my belle époque.
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...
I requested Belle Époque from the publishers because firstly it has a beautiful cover and secondly it's set in Paris and that was enough for me! I also loved the sound of the book which always helps. To be honest I wasn't sure what to expect from this story as it sounded very different to anything I had read before but it was a lovely surprise and it's a book I'd happily recommend it to customers at the shop.
The story follows Maude as she is takes on the job of "repoussoir" to survive her new life in Paris. A repoussoir is a person hired by another woman to enhance their beauty and make them stand out, you are hired on account of your ugliness. I thought the idea was so interesting and as I was reading I couldn't help but think of those kind of people who actually surround themselves with people they don't see as pretty as them or as any kind of threat. It also made me think about brides who have people in their wedding party that they think won't out do them! It's actually all around us this idea of repoussoir but people are just not paying for it.
Unbeknown to Isabelle, Maude is hired as her repoussoir and I loved their relationship. With Maude you more or less get what you see but Isabelle is a really interesting and has two sides to her, obviously one you hate and one you love. I love the time the girls spend together and the secrets they share and I'm so happy with how things turned out between the two.
Now no story these days is complete without some kind of love interest and we get little snippets of one with Maude and Paul. But this is where my only niggle with the book lies, we don't see enough of the two together and although there are hints that the two will become an item it's just not enough.
I really liked the style of Ross' writing, I felt like I was in Paris and she truly bought things to life for me. As I said I would happily recommend this book to others and I will be sure to read anything Ross writes in the future!!