Here Comes the...Baby

Belle of the Ball by Pat McCutcheon
(Zebra Ballad, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7456-5
Belle of the Ball is the first in a series called “The Three Graces”. The premise is simple yet complicated - three sisters stand at the base of a cluster of stones called the Three Graces. These stones are shaped like pillars and folklore says they depict three goddesses - one each for beauty, grace and charm. The sisters are named after these goddesses - Belle, Grace and Charisma - because years ago their mother wished for love and received a proposal from their father.

The girls are sent to the statues to make the same wish and the goddesses decide to assist them, too. However, there is a twist - while the girls are standing there, they overhear their male escorts make disparaging remarks about them. This causes Belle, the oldest, to wish for beauty out loud, with revenge in her mind and love for her beau in her heart. The goddess, Aglaia, is not certain which wish to fulfill, but she agrees to help. She transforms herself into human form and presents herself as a dressmaker.

Belle Sullivan, just turned eighteen, is enamored of her escort, Kit Stanhope. Colorado Springs in 1882 has earned the nickname “Little London”, partly because of all the second and third sons of English nobility who have settled there. Kit is a second son with no hopes of inheriting a title. He has been sent from England due to a scandal involving a young woman, for which he declares his innocence. Now living off a monthly remittance from his father, he is being pressured to find an investment and means of support, or this allowance will be cut off. In addition, an old neighbor, Daltrey, is in town, and demanding payment to keep quiet about the scandal. Investments are plentiful, but not the kind of investment that would be considered appropriate by Kit’s father. He is in a quandary.

Belle’s mother is a social climber and has decided to assist her girls in their quest for love. She hires three men, including Kit, to escort her daughters to the Garden where the statues are. She is horrified these same gentlemen would say something so rude about her girls. Belle confronts Kit regarding his remark calling her “homely”. He apologizes, saying he was only going along with the other two due to a possible investment. Belle convinces him to help her, agreeing to pay him for his services. Her intent is to make herself beautiful, getting all three gentlemen to fall in love with her and then snubbing them for their rude remarks.

There is a lot of manipulation and scenarios that play into making Belle beautiful. Along the way, Aglaia throws in some magic - just a little - to help things move along. Kit begins to fall for Belle, but has that horrible secret of the scandal hanging over his head. He also is convinced she doesn’t trust him and cannot love someone like that. Belle begins to generally like Kit and starts to fall for him, yet can’t quite forgive him.

This story plods along, with more and more complications thrown into the mix. Belle’s attempts at gaining revenge are not as successful as she hopes. The story attempts to be a lighthearted fantasy, yet is much too complicated and tiresome to be so.

Belle is an immature, silly girl, who is too naïve for her own good. She is so convinced that she must follow through with her plan, even when it is clear it is a dumb plan, that I lost interest in the outcome early on.

Kit is someone who depends too much on others’ opinions and was the antithesis to the rake he was supposed to me. First, if he is so noble, why did he let his family kick him out? Then he allows Daltrey to blackmail him for months before he finds the backbone to stand up to him. He is looking for an investment, yet doesn’t pursue it or try to work for it…he simply waits until it falls into his lap.

Frankly, by the time the story was done, I was glad to see Kit and Belle end up together as I wouldn’t wish them on anyone else.

The saving grace to the story is the premise. There are hints of the story this could have been, if only the characters had been more likeable. There will be two other stories about the other sisters following this, written by different authors. Charisma is outspoken and clearly not one to worry about convention. Grace is delightful, yet totally opposite her name, almost oafish.

Belle of the Ball is anything but beautiful. I would strongly suggest you pass by this grace and look for the other two installments to see if the idea can be better utilized in other hands.

--Shirley Lyons

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