Book Review: Beautiful Creatures

beautiful-creatures_high-res1When it comes to the lucrative Young Adult genre, it would seem that the supernatural theme is still a major presence. The success of the Twilight Saga sparked a revolution of sorts with vampires, werewolves, witches and ghosts which have become more popular now than they have been in years and thus, from this comes a series of books known as the Caster Chronicles; a four-book collection dealing with the relationship between Mortal Ethan Wate and Caster  Lena Duchannes.

Written by authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Creatures is the first instalment in this series published in December 2009 and has recently been made into a movie directed by Richard LaGravenese. Set in the Gothic, and deeply religious town of Gatlin, South Carolina, Beautiful Creatures depicts the beginning of the relationship between two high school students Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes.

Ethan is a young man who dreams of nothing more than escaping the suffocating confines of small-town life in Gatlin where nothing ever changes and everybody knows everything about everyone else. With his father a recluse following the passing of his mother a few months previous, Ethan is raised by his housekeeper and surrogate mother, Amma, who has a penchant for crosswords and associates herself with superstition, and aided by his loyal best friend, Link, the son of the most religious woman in town whose aspiration is for his band to hit the big-time. However, not everything is as it seems as every night, Ethan is plagued with vivid dreams of a girl whom he is powerless to save but with who he is in love with despite never seeing her face.

On his first day back at school, he finally meets the girl from his dreams – Lena Duchannes, a new girl to his class who also happens to be the niece of Macon Ravenwood, the town’s shut-in who lives on the most infamous plantation in Gatlin and who no one has seen since before Ethan was born. Unlike the rest of his classmates who constantly berate her, Ethan is drawn to Lena, enamoured by her mystery and his connection to her.

As he gets to know her, he realizes that their bond is strong; so much so that they can communicate with one another through their thoughts, known as kelting, and it does not take long for their friendship to blossom into something more.

However, things are never that simple and soon Ethan learns that Lena is a “Caster”, a person who can use magic, and he inevitably becomes dragged into her world, learning about her family and their abilities. He also learns that there is a curse: on Lena’s sixteenth birthday she will be claimed for either the Light or the Dark with no choice in the matter.

In a race against time, Ethan tries to find a way to break the curse and save the girl he loves from turning Dark, all the while trying to figure out why he and Lena are connected. Through a series of events and situations out of their control, Ethan and Lena understand that what they are dealing with is much bigger than either of them had anticipated.

With its 563 pages, Beautiful Creatures is a very dense book that tends to lag in the middle. What starts off so brightly and draws you in quickly soon becomes more complicated than it needs to be and the interest in the story wanes. That being said, the last 150 pages or so are a good read as the plot does eventually move forward towards the big climax. The majority of the book is well-written with good splashes of humour thrown in for good measure and there is good character development throughout the book. However, the pacing is inconsistent and that is probably where the book’s biggest flaw lies.

What is interesting about the story is that it is told from the perspective of Ethan which is a refreshing turn for this genre of book. However in some parts, Ethan does not read as a male as he often critiques the clothes and hair of the popular girls in school; but that observation could stem from the fact that the book was written by two women. What is also of interest is that there is no love triangle in the book which is unusual but very welcome; it focuses on the love between the two leads and the obstacles Mortals and Casters have to face instead of trying to somehow prove their love for each other by throwing in other characters to stir up their feelings.

Overall, if you are a fan of the young adult genre and enjoy a love story then Beautiful Creatures is well worth the read. It boasts characters that are well-defined and colourful and the setting is atmospheric, contributing greatly to the overall feel of the book. Ethan and Lena are both likable characters and easy to root-for, and the ending arouses enough curiosity to warrant a look at the second book.

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