Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures

Written by: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Published: 2009

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

Challenges: Urban Fantasy for Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge

Ok, I'm going to put my biases where you can see them. I dislike A LOT of YA, mainly because YA seems to be full of fantasy romance books a la Twilight. 

Twilight ruined a lot of things for me, vampires, YA, romance...it's a bad series, and it spawned a bunch of imitators which made delving into YA even harder. I know this isn't fair - sure there are Twilight imitators, but I unfairly group any book that has ties to Twilight, fantasy elements, mythical creatures, romance plot, forbidden love etc, into the 'nah-uh no way' basket. I'm trying to break this habit because it isn't fair on the authors who work hard on their books to be ignored because of an author that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with them. Perhaps I'll find out that I'm not cut out for this genre anyway, but for now I'm trying really hard to push those judgements away and look at the book objectively.

Enter Beautiful Creatures. This is a series that shares some clear ties to Twilight, there's the boy and girl with the unavoidable bond, the character with the mythical secret, a family (or two) that forbids the relationship, and a sense of danger that surrounds the couple and the town. I really wanted this to be the book to change my mind of the genre, and while I enjoyed a great deal of it, today isn't the day.

So a lot of it is par for the course, our narrator Ethan feels out of place in his backwards Southern hick town. But he's not actually an outsider, he's firmly part of the cool crowd. He's a natural on the basketball team, he's dated the second hottest girl in school, and he seems to have a pretty decent group of friends. But he's desperate to get out of there and separate himself from this world as soon as he turns 18. On his first day back at school he hears talk of a new girl, and coincidentally he's been having dreams about a girl he's never met and shock,  be still my beating heart, he realises she's the girl from his dreams, literally. She's the opposite to everyone at his school. Where all the girls are cheerleader cookie cut-outs, Lena wears a lot of black, has a weird charm necklace and drive around in her Boo Radley-esque uncle's hearse (GET IT SHE'S DIFFERENT). Ethan desperately wants to get to know her, but she's not so eager to reciprocate, or so it seems anyway. Oh, and aside from dreaming about her, it turns out Ethan and Lena can speak to each other telepathically. Because they're made for each other. Clearly.

Having Ethan be our narrator is an interesting decision, and it does definitely separate the book from being a complete Twilight clone, but I'm not so sure the authors have met many teenage boys. Granted, I've never been one myself, but he's so sappy and flowery and dramatic and focuses way too much on describing what Lena is wearing that particular day. I did like hearing his story and seeing him deal with the loss of his mother and his shut-in father, but you could have changed the name to Ethania, the girlfriends to boyfriends, and basketball to softball and there wouldn't have been much more editing needed. His internal conflict is interesting in theory, but there's a weakness to how it actually plays out. The main conceit of their relationship is that she's different, the town dislikes different, if he sides with her he becomes different too. But he whines so much about how the people at school are shallow and not really people he wants to identify with, I don't really understand why it's a big deal if he can't spend lunch times with them any more. It seemed more like he was there because he had nowhere else to go, and now he does have somewhere else to go, so what's the problem?

Now, Lena's world and conflict is far more interesting, though still flawed. She's a caster (i.e. witch) and the construction of this world was an interesting one. Each caster has a unique form of power in addition with the general witchy ability to move objects and so forth. Some are healers, some are able to see through time, others can assimilate other powers and some, like Lena are 'naturals' which means they're quite powerful and uh, can do things to nature? I think? In the caster world you choose whether to be either light or dark, but in Lena's family a curse chooses it for you at 16. So regardless of how good and kind and thoughtful Lena may have been for 15 years, 11 months and 29 days, if fate decrees she's going to be evil, she's going to be evil. Understandably Lena gets pretty angsty about this, and much of the novel deals with Lena coming to terms/not really coming to terms with this at all.

I wish they'd made Lena and Ethan friends instead of a couple, because a lot of the plot choices made around the concept of their burgeoning love felt forced. What Lena needed was a friend, and much of the conflict in the book could still have existed if they were friends not lovers. Ethan still would have antagonised the town by choosing to be friends with the weirdo, their families could still try to keep them separated, and the stakes for her 16th birthday would have remained the same. It also would have eliminated a great deal of the length, which this book could have used, and that would have actually been rather revolutionary for a paranormal YA.

Outside of the two protagonists though, the quality of the characters go both ways. Lena's evil cousin sounds like Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw, Ethan's dad was unfleshed out (but could have been fascinating) and the rabble-rousers in the town were conveniently one-dimensional. Ethan and Lena's guardians on the other hand, Amma and Macon respectively, were pretty great. Amma is the bossy Southern housekeeper that you always read in books set in the South, but that doesn't make her sassiness any less fabulous. If Ethan's father had been a little better developed, her role as Ethan's surrogate mum could have been even more dynamic. Macon, Lena's uncle, is basically the male equivalent of Amma in every sense, and the casting of Jeremy Irons in this role makes perfect sense. Again, the relationship could have used a little development, but there were a few moments between them that just shone.

It's those few glimpses that make me think that the series could perhaps go on to some pretty great heights, as long as the authors strive to challenge the genre and themselves, rather than just settling back into comfortable mediocrity. I had some issues with this book, clearly, but I was engaged most of the way through the 500+ pages. It didn't tick all the necessary boxes for me, but I could see how people could love this book, and if you've ever enjoyed books in the paranormal/fantasy/YA genres it's probably just the book you're looking for.


  1. I have to admit I gave up on this after the first few chapters. Didn't even give the young couple a chance to meet. Ethan managed to irritate me so much in those first few chapters I couldn't face reading the rest. Nice review but I doubt I will go back and finish it.

    1. Yeah I think it gets better, but if it was bad enough to stop reading I doubt you'd like it enough to get through all 500+ pages!

  2. Aww sad. I'm with you (and Jane) on the whole "not my jam" thing but I was sorta hoping you'd say this was the book that turned that around. Even though reading your description made a voice in my head scream "unavoidable bond?? ugh. NEXT" But your review is funny so that's sort of enough for me.

    Your comment about Ethan being odd as the narrator cos he's not so much like a teenage boy and does things like constantly describe what Lena is wearing makes me think of the quote that women dress for other women and gay men, cos they're the only ones who are going to actually notice what you're wearing. So..yeah...

    Also casters are wheels put on heavy furniture so yeah, using that name instead of witch leaves me with funny visuals.

    1. You know, the night after I wrote this review I had friends over for a game of D&D, and one guy is the new DM and he was describing the scene and the new characters and he introduced this chick and went into huge detail about how she had long black hair slicked back in a ponytail with a blunt fringe right over her eyes and then went on to describe her clothing and I was like "wtf, is this a thing now?!" So maybe I was too hard on Ethan, but I've heard that quote too, and it definitely reminded me that the authors were female each time he mentioned it.

      While it definitely wasn't the one to change my mind, it was different enough that it gives me hope that maybe the next few series might start to get it right. Maybe?

  3. I think I'm going to give this one a miss. It does sound too Twilight-esque. So over paranormal romance.

    1. I think I'll give a couple of other books a chance before deciding once and for all, but yeah, I just don't think this is the genre for me.

  4. Ha! I actually just read this book while in Mexico this past week! I totally agree with so much of what you said, but I dunno, I really enjoyed it. I don't know if I had been as absorbed in reading it though, had I not had as many lazy hours on the beach to read as I did...

    I liked that it was from the point of view of a dude - because it always seems to be a girl and I REALLY liked that there wasn't a lame love triangle - although you make a good point - why did they have to be love interests? It could have been good if they were just good friends, like you said. I think that's where the whole 'YA' thing comes into play - seems all (most) YA fit into that cookie cutter YA script. Really, is there a YA book being published these days that ISN'T a love story above all else?

    I do want to see the movie though haha! Do you think you'll read the next book in the series?

    1. As much as I criticised it in my review I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either and I could completely understand why people would like it (unlike Twilight which I just never saw the appeal of).

      The lack of a love triangle was so refreshing, but you're right, it's like they have a list of books they need to check if they want to succeed in the YA market. Or that they think they need to succeed in a YA market. If they had to have a romantic relationship I think they could have developed it over the whole series, maybe start them as friends and have it grow.

      I think I'll watch the film, but I'm not sure about the rest of the series. Maybe if I come across a copy, but I don't think I'll actively hunt it down.

  5. Great review Kayleigh! I think I'll give this a miss because I just don't want to put effort into reading something I already know I'm not going to love. I totally agree that Twilight ruined so many other books for me.

    I'm not sure I'll be seeing the movie either.

    1. Yeah I know that feeling, it's why I've struggled with paranormal YA so much in the past.

      My sister really wants to see the film, and I have a free movie ticket so I'll probably see it, but I imagine it'll be as melodramatic as the Twilight films - the special effects look much better though.

  6. I could see how people could love this book... Until the ending. Which I hated. :)


    1. Yeah I wasn't a fan of the ending. It felt too easy. Have you read the others in the series?



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