Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
“There are only two kinds of people in my town. The stupid and the stuck”
Ethan Wate, Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Beautiful Creatures is the first book in the Caster Chronicles written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It wasn’t until I saw the movie trailer for Beautiful Creatures that I even knew this book existed. I liked the look of the movie as the plot seemed like something I would usually pick up and read. I think the title and the cover just don’t really give anything away.
At the beginning of the book, Ethan heads to school for the first day of his sophomore year. When he arrives, the only thing people are talking about is the new girl, Lena Duchannes. Lena has caused quite a stir because she is connected with the town recluse, Macon, whose family is said to be Satanists. Ethan is intrigued by Lena because she has moved to the small town of Gatlin and he dreams of leaving Gatlin; he says only those who are too stupid or too stuck stay in Gatlin. When Ethan drives home one day after school, he almost hits Lena because her car broke down. Ethan gives Lena a lift to her house, and while he tries to get to know her better, she tries to keep him at arm’s length (or further) away. The next day at school, Lena is tormented by a pack of girls at the school who are extremely religious and don’t want Lena at the school because of her supposed Satanism. After Lena unwittingly breaks all the windows in a classroom, Ethan begins to wonder whether there is more to the rumors than he previously thought. Ethan persists in trying to get to know Lena and he is determined to uncover whether there is any truth to the rumors. Eventually, Lena confesses that she and her family are castors and that on her 16th birthday Lena will be claimed by either the light or the dark, a curse placed on her entire family. If she is claimed for the Dark, she may no longer be the Lena that Ethan is coming to love. What will happen on Lena’s 16th birthday? Will she be claimed for the Light or the Dark?
This book was okay. It wasn’t as bad as some YA fantasy fiction that I have read, but it didn’t blow me away. I don’t think I would read the book again, but I am somewhat curious to read the next book to see what happens. There were some things that I liked in the book, but there were a lot of things that I didn’t like.
Overall, there is nothing new in this book. It follows the same general YA pattern with a romance between a paranormal character and a mortal character. Only in this book, the mortal character is a boy rather than a girl. Essentially, the two characters are drawn to each other by some unknown force of nature. They fall in love despite the fact that it would be safer if the mortal character stayed away from the paranormal character. Of course, this doesn’t happen and they conquer the adversity and show love conquers all – I just blanched. I had high hopes that this book would be more than this, but there really wasn’t enough focus on the magic. The main plot is the romance, not the magic. I really wanted to see a lot more of the magic but it came in drips and drabs throughout the book.
One of the main problems with this book is the pacing. I almost gave up after the first third to half of the book because the pacing was so slow and the focus was so heavily on the romance. Things did pick up once Lena told Ethan she was a castor because this brought more magic into the plot. Things slowed down after that and once again, I almost gave up. Things picked back up near to the ending so I finished it. I think there are a few things that caused the problems in pacing. First, the book is huge considering the target audience is young adult. I think this is partly because there were two authors writing one book, so double the ideas. As a result, there are a lot of sub-plots in this book. I like this in theory because it keeps the reader interested, but the problem in Beautiful Creatures is the number of sub-plots, each one taking time to establish and then pull together at the end. Not only that, but too much time was spent on some sub-plots/plot points. For example, the research about the curse took up too much of the book. I found this dull and I ended up skimming. I think the plot point itself is fine; just too much time was spent on it. I think that the book really needed a harsh editor to go through and cut at least one third of the book if not more. That being said, I do like how everything came together in the ending. It was complex to follow, but the last 50-100 pages were probably the most interesting of the book.
I’m really ambivalent about one of the sub-plots in this book; the small Southern town that rises up against Lena because they think her and her family are Satanists. On the one hand, I found the conflict interesting. It created conflict at school among her peers and it created conflict for the town as a whole because they essentially wanted to run Lena out of town. That being said, I feel like the way the Southern town was portrayed was very stereotypical. The town was portrayed as being stuck in the past (particularly a battle where they almost won the civil war), highly religious, highly bigoted and against change. I didn’t like that and I would have preferred a little variation. I think that people who live in the South of America might be rather offended by how the people in Gatlin are portrayed. I mean, I found myself getting irritated by Ethan’s attitude. For example, at one point in the book, he explains that he doesn’t have a Southern accent because he was raised by educated people. This made me uncomfortable. I have a friend who grew up in a Southern state and she is intelligent, unreligious and definitely not a bigot. I doubt she is an anomaly.
I was excited once I realized that the book is written from Ethan’s perspective. I assumed it was written from Lena’s perspective as most YA fantasy books are written from the female POV. Choosing to write a YA book from a male POV is different, but I think it showed that two females had written the male character. Ethan didn’t feel like your typical sixteen year old boy. At times, it felt like Ethan was a female character. For example, he spends a lot of time commenting on the other characters clothes (“All of her clothes, all of her jewelry, all of her signature, brightly patterned scarves seemed to come from somewhere else and complement her unintentionally cool cropped haircut”). He is also unusually in touch with his feelings and does things that a woman is much more likely to do when in a new relationship. Take this excerpt, for example: “An hour was both faster and slower. I felt like I had sucked the air out of a giant balloon, like my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Clouds were more interesting, the lunchroom less disgusting, music sounded better, the same old jokes were funnier, and Jackson went from being a clump of grayish-green industrial buildings to a map of times and places where I might run into her. I found myself smiling for no reason, keeping my earphones in and replaying our conversations in my head, just so I could listen to them again.” These are Ethan’s thoughts. I think that if someone read that without having any knowledge of the book and without knowing who said it, they would assume a female POV. Ethan just doesn’t have a strong male voice. There are places where Ethan is fairly witty though and he did make me chuckle.
I really couldn’t connect with Lena’s character. I found her to be melodramatic and inconsistent. Lena spends a lot of the book whining about being claimed, and the other characters constantly try to reassure her that she will be claimed for the Light. At points, I wanted to shake Lena and tell her to get on with it. She definitely doesn’t depict a strong female character. Also, Lena’s hate for the small town girls who bully her and her desperation to be accepted frustrated me. For example, when a party is thrown to celebrate Lena’s sixteenth birthday, the girls who have spent the entire book making her life a misery are there. To me, Lena shouldn’t have wanted to go, but she did.
For my personal taste, there was too much focus on the romance between Lena and Ethan. For example, in the first few pages of the book, Ethan is having a reoccurring dream about a girl he doesn’t know; he never quite sees her face because her hair covers it. In the dream he always tries and fails to save her and he feels the pain of losing someone he loves again and again. This didn’t set a great precedent for the romance because I find it odd that someone would be that in love with someone who isn’t real (as far as Ethan knows) to the point where he thinks he can’t live without her. This over-the-top romance continues throughout the book. For example, Ethan says that Lena is “a girl who burns me and shocks me and shatters me with a single touch.” I really don’t like this kind of writing.
Final Verdict: I would recommend you watch the Beautiful Creatures movie first. It’s better and you can decide whether you want to read the whole book because the ending in the book is very different to the movie.
For rest of the series see Beautiful Darkness (Book 2), Beautiful Chaos (Book 3) and Beautiful Redemption (Book 4)
“The thing they didn’t know was, I wasn’t into girls like Emily. She was pretty, but that was it. And looking at her didn’t make up for having to listen to what came out of her mouth. I wanted someone different, someone I could talk to about something other than parties and getting crowned at winter formal. A girl who was smart, or funny, or at least a decent lab partner.
Maybe a girl like that was the real dream, but a dream was still better than a nightmare. Even if the nightmare was wearing a cheerleading skirt.”
Ethan from Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
While I was pleasantly surprised by the movie of Beautiful Creatures, I was not sure if I really wanted to read the book. I almost returned it to the library unread, and even Frances wasn’t sure if I would like it. Surprising to both of us, I really like this book. I had trouble putting it down when I started and finished the book within a couple days (although this could also be partly due to procrastination!). I also think it helped that I knew roughly what would happen, so I could look forward to events.
One of the most interesting parts of the book to me is that it is written from the male perspective, Ethan’s. He is someone I was easily able to identify with, and I think that was what made the story so interesting for me; it connected with my inner middle-school self. He is waiting for someone that he can actually talk to, relate to, as he feels trapped in his town. However, as much as I like Ethan, I don’t find him a particularly realistic 16 year old male. I think the authors were close, but he was more of an image of how a girl wants a teenage male to be. As someone who was more recently in high school and part of a basketball team, I think it was a bit off.
As a Northerner, I loved how crazy southern life was portrayed. The focus on what the Civil War is called is something I enjoyed, as I have used it in my own life. Unlike Ethan who decides how old/educated someone is by what they call the war, I use it to decide where I can live (Civil War-yes, War Between the States-maybe, War of Northern Aggression- NO WAY!). I also love that the authors explain why neither main character has a noticeable southern accent. It just made me so glad that I was raised north of the Mason Dixon Line!
I find it hard to decide whether I liked the movie or novel better. There were things I liked better in both. But I really like all the extra characters in the book, and that we see more of the school interactions. There was obviously more in the book, and some of those scenes were great, like prom (even if it was a bit like a certain Stephen King book). I also like that all of the family faces the claiming, not just the women, this was something that had bothered me in the movie. The presence of Nathan’s mother in the novel is also something I really love.
I think my recommendation would be to watch the movie and then read the book, which is not my usual suggestion. But I think in this case I was better able to enjoy both. Just be prepared for Lena to be a bit whiney (with some cause) in both.
Final Verdict: When paired with the movie an intriguing book, a great summer/vacation book that will keep you reading until the end.