And I thought Southern Gothic was dead, or my review of Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful CreaturesBeautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1)

By: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Publication Date: December 1st, 2009

Format: E-Book

synopsis

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

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review

3 star (dragon)

This is the thing about Beautiful creatures: It’s not a great book. It’s debateable whether it’s even a good book, honestly. But for me at least, the book was definitely quality entertainment. It’s maybe a slight twist on the typical YA paranormal romance, but the ride was rousing enough to make it worth the read.

Part of this might be my appreciation of both Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl as people. Em and I were at a panel on our first YALLfest, where both Garcia and Stohl were talking. From the moment Kami Garcia admitted to driving around town blasting rock music in preparation for killing off a character, I felt deep admiration. Basically, I think they’re cool people, and that may have influenced how I saw Beautiful Creatures.

I’m also a bit of a sucker for books that aren’t great, but are fun, and Beautiful Creatures was fun for me. The plot was predictable enough that I felt I could breathe, but still threw a few sucker punches at me. I didn’t think that Ethan and Lena were maybe the most fleshed out of characters, but the people around them definitely were–I loved Amma, Macon, Ridley and Link, and especially Marian the librarian. And even though I felt that Ethan and Lena were maybe a bit flat, I could get behind their romance and understand their struggle to define themselves against the weight and expectation of history.

Ethan’s voice was a bit disappointing. I mean, I liked him, I thought he was an OK guy, but I really felt like Lena was the focal point of the story, and that most of Ethan’s thoughts and struggles revolved around her. The one snippet in her voice was so interesting that I had to stop and go ‘now, why couldn’t the whole book be from Lena’s point of view?’. As it was, Ethan gets a bit repetitive, although points to both Garcia and Stohl for writing from a guy’s perspective.

Additionally, I really liked the modern Southern Gothic vibe. Although I’m from the south, I’m not so far south that people tend to say The War of Northern Aggression. I am from somewhere where confederate flags are a typical sight, though, (sad to say), so I could nod along when Ethan rolled his eyes at his history teacher and the DAR. I also enjoyed how the Civil War history was woven into the history of the Casters, and how integral a bunch of eccentric magic-users are to the survival of this tiny, closed-in South Carolina town. The motif of ‘history repeats itself’ was also interesting, although I liked how it was subverted at the end.

I did wonder if the conformist nature of the town was almost carried too far. Most of the high-school pecking order stuff felt too Hollywood, almost caricatured to me, and although some of the actions of the town were explained at the end, for most of the book I was shaking my head wondering why people would be THAT committed to pushing out someone who scared them.

I also felt that the book skimmed over a very interesting race issue. Race in the south, especially in a place as tied to the Civil War as Gatlin apparently is, is always going to be an issue. I was fairly confident that Amma, Ethan’s housekeeper/caretaker, was black, but there was no mention of anyone else in town being black, or anyone serving a similar role that Amma did, despite the fact that Gatlin was basically a plantation town back in the day. The fact that Ravenwood was also an old plantation raised a similar question, neatly circumvented by magic. Still, I wondered how much of a role race played in the book, and why it wasn’t given much thought besides ‘oh, the housekeeper should be black, and also know voodoo’.

But, despite that, I enjoyed the book as a whole. It was fast-paced, answering just enough questions to keep me reading while holding out just enough to keep me on my toes. I did shamelessly enjoy the romance plot, and thought that it was done in a very sweet way. I loved especially how Ethan was constantly there for Lena, constantly supporting her. And I want to see more of Gatlin and it’s odd, paradoxical, quintessentially Southern madness.

There are some plot holes, and some unanswered questions that I hope the rest of the series will get to, but on the whole I found Beautiful Creatures to be a thoroughly entertaining read, combining Southern history, magic and love in a way that was deeply interesting.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.