Saturday, January 2, 2010

Beautiful disaster

Ill-fated star-crossed lovers have always been fascinating themes in novels, plays, and poems. We've all seen it -- from families at war; vampires, werewolves, and humans; aliens and humans. But what about witches and humans? That's what Beautiful Creatures is all about. Beautiful Creatures is a debut young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, both of whom have been fascinated by supernatural elements in fiction and have longed to write a novel that is set in the South.

One can describe Beautiful Creatures as a Southern Gothic novel, as it is set in a small Southern town called Gatlin and it has the trademark Gothic elements: forbidden love, dark family secrets, creepy ancestral houses, just to name a few. In the novel, 16-year-old Ethan Waite falls in love with 15-year-old Lena Duchannes, who has just recently moved to her reclusive uncle's mansion, dubbed as the town's haunted house. The two fall in love against the wishes of their families. You see, Lena harbors a secret; she's a Caster (read: witch), one who'll be claimed either by the Dark or Light on her 16th birthday. Lena reveals this fact to Ethan, saying that Casters don't really have to say whether they they turn Dark or Light when they reach 16. Together, they attempt to find a way for Lena not to turn Dark. But in doing so, they unearth a family secret, one that involves two people from their families several generations ago and who were in a circumstance not unlike what Lena and Ethan are currently facing.

Frankly, I was prepared to toss the book in one corner after around 50 pages since I found the story too dragging, the narrative too slow, for my liking. Of course, I should've expected this pace from the novel since, after all, it is a Gothic novel. I do, however, have my doubts whether young adults have the patience to go through the novel's 550 pages if it isn't engaging at all. But thank goodness I persevered, for the novel somewhat picks up after 100 pages or so. When I reached the novel's second half, I could hardly put it down.

One of the reasons that I found the novel engaging is the set of characters that Garcia and Stohl came up with. Casters also have their special powers. To name a few: Sirens, who can persuade people to do stuff; Naturals, who can control the weather; Palimpsests, who can see different points in time; Shifters, who can change different objects into something else. The authors even throw in some supernatural characters as well such as Incubi and clairvoyants. But my favorite character would have to be the librarian, who runs both the town library and the library of the supernatural world.

Beautiful Creatures was a very surprising read. I've thought that the love angle would somehow seem similar to other supernatural romances in the YA genre. Both the characters of Lena and Ethan are refreshing; they act as any teenager would given the circumstances. Ethan is lovable because of his quirkiness and his curiosity. And I found myself empathic to Lena; her fish-out-of-water persona never goes overboard. If you found yourself being an outsider during your high school years, I'm sure you would be able to relate to Lena.

Beautiful Creatures was my last read for 2009. And I couldn't be more pleased to end the year with such a delightful novel. Garcia and Stohl are notable names to watch out for in the crowded genre that is YA supernatural fiction. Thankfully, I know that I'd be reading more from these two, since Beautiful Creatures ended with a not-so-subtle hint of a sequel. I'll be eagerly anticipating that one.

Read this book if:
  1. You're fascinated with witches.
  2. You felt different from the rest during high school.
  3. You've never read a Southern Gothic novel.


Melange said...

Great review!! I do now intend on reading this book, as I needed a 'southern fiction' for one of my lists I'm on...

fantaghiro23 said...

Thanks for the review, Peter! Am now looking forward to acquiring and reading this soon.:)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Melange and fantaghiro23! Thanks for your comments! Yes, you should read this! I'm sure you'll find Beautiful Creatures interesting as well.

Dannie said...

Does True Blood count as Southern Gothic? Lol.
This books been getting a lot of praise around the blogasphere, so I might pick it up.

Mrs. B. said...

Interesting though I think I'll wait for the paperback copy.

Vivienne said...

what is it about Gothic novels and slow starts. All the ones I have read apart from Jamaica Inn have been really slow to get going, but I haven't given up and they have all been fabulous.

Charlie said...

I have this book in my TBR pile, so thanks for warning me to hang on past the first fifty pages.

Suko said...

Very well-written review, Peter. I've never read a Southern Gothic novel, and this one may well become my first.

The last book of the year--as well as the first--do seem to hold extra importance, because you want to end the old year, and begin the new one, in the best possible way. :)

Alexia561 said...

Great review Peter! I have yet to read a negative review about this one, and am eagerly awaiting for my copy to arrive in the mail. Can't wait to read it for myself!

Peter S. said...

@Dannie: Yes, I think True Blood can be considered as Southern Gothic. Hehe.

@Mrs. B: Hardbacks are great to see on one's shelves though. Hehehe.

@Vivienne: I'm reading Jamaica Inn next!

@Charlie: I'm sure you'll enjoy this one!

@Suko: I have to agre with you! I'm writing the review of my first book next.

@Alexia: I can't wait to read your review of Beautiful Creatures!

SariJ said...

I too have to read a southern fiction book for a group challenge. If my library has this book I will read it.
Thanks for the terrific review. It is always a delight to hear about your reads.

Peter S. said...

Hi, SariJ! Thanks for dropping by again! This book would be perfect for that challenge.