Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Review - Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Darkness (Caster Chronicles Book 1) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Published by: Little Brown
Publication Date: December 1st, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 563 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Ethan Lawson Wate dreams of the day he can finally leave Gatlin. The small town is suffocating him and his home life isn't the greatest either with his father being a recluse since his mother's death. But that's not Ethan's only dream. He dreams of a girl. He dreams of falling through trees with this girl. This nameless faceless girl whom he clearly loves. On the first day of school he meets Lena Duchannes, quite literally the girl of his dreams. Lena isn't like the other girls, and this draws Ethan to her. In fact she's not like any girls, she's magical, being a Caster. She feels like her entire life is living on borrowed time because come February and her 16th birthday she will either go to the good or the bad. Therefore it's very inconvenient that Ethan and Lena start to fall in love. But perhaps Ethan is what she needs to survive.

Back in December 2009 I had been blogging for about seven months. With my blogging I started to become more savvy about books in general. I became a connoisseur about my book purchases, not buying everything that looked good, instead seeing what other people said and relying more on my fellow blogger community. This of course was a two edged sword, sure I wasn't indiscriminately buying every book out there, but I was getting so many recommendations that, well, my book buying increased more then decreased. One book that everyone was excited for was Beautiful Creatures, and their excitement was contagious. Ironically not only did I buy the book but I won a copy from Little Brown! So I was all set to dive right into this series, and as is usually the case, I didn't get around to it for a few years. It was in fact the release of the movie that finally spurred me into action. Obviously I couldn't NOT watch a movie staring Emma Thompson, I suffered through that second Nanny McPhee movie after all. But the book had to come first!

What really struck me about Beautiful Creatures is it's exotic local. Yes, Gatlin, South Carolina is exotic, at least for popular YA. Usually YA likes to be set among the same popular cities as urban fantasy, laying in the shadows of New York or Chicago. Or it's dystopian and some future unknown ruin of a city. Or it's both, ahem Veronica Roth. But here we have a very recognizable southern US that brings with it all the baggage of the War of Northern Aggression (I should note that all my family fought for the North). There is a charming southerness to the book filled with Civil War reenactments and swampy cemeteries. This brings with it a certain Gothic romanticism to it that makes you think that magic isn't the most unlikely thing that could happen in this setting. Garcia and Stohl capture the town and the environment so well that it almost becomes a character in it's own right.

But despite it's southern hospitality there is still a small town mentality against anything "other." Even if Lena Duchannes wasn't a Caster with supernatural powers, her being an outsider, as well as a relative of the town's local recluse, would make her the subject of gossip. Add to that her "bewitching" Ethan, and there doesn't need a window shattering to make her an outcast. The window shattering just ups the whole situation to Carrie levels and there's more then just one or two hints to the Stephen King classic. Of course this being Gatlin they opt for liquid soap instead of pig's blood. Also Gatlin is a little more organized then King's small town and Lena is far more in control and aware of her powers to let the situation escalate. But there are several leaflets against Lena as well as a petition to have her thrown out of school, but sadly for them, the mean girls don't succeed.

Yet the Carrie undertone isn't the only undertone. To me there is a lot more of the Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch vibe then any other touchstone out there. I'd say in fact it leans very heavily on Sabrina, what with how Lena can't be raised by her mother, and that a Caster can go good or evil on their sixteenth birthday. It reminded me strongly of Sabrina and her evil twin. Yes, I love Sabrina and I'm not afraid to admit it. But despite all these great undertones and references and the atmosphere, there was just something missing. Beautiful Creatures lacks it's own identity. It becomes muddled between past and present mythology and it made the overall book quickly forgettable. Yes, despite reading this book fairly recently, I had to go and read a synopsis on Wikipedia to refresh myself as to what happened before writing this review. Because in all seriousness, if someone was to say what this book was about I'd say people running around in the south and there's some SCA fun. That isn't the book though, that's just my take away, and it's a lame one at that.


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