Thursday, 23 August 2012

Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

I'm always a bit wary of books with two authors - I can't imagine the kind of relationship you'd need to have with someone to be able to write a book with them and have it flow as if produced by one author. Beautiful Creatures is a book that I've been considering reading for quite a while, not too sure if I would like it or not. I decided to go for it though, and it turned out to be a good decision.

Beautiful Creatures is a good, chunky read. It's a substantial book, which I like. Even before I start reading, it's good to know that there's something there to get my teeth into, with the promise of further books if I like it. As soon as I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the story is told from Ethan's point of view - it makes a nice change to be reading the thoughts of a hormonal young man instead of an angst-ridden teenage girl. For some reason it makes the book more interesting, although I'm sure that as it's written by two women, the boy's point of view is actually what a girl thinks a boy would think, rather than what a boy would really think! I suspect if it was written how a boy really thinks, us girls wouldn't like it nearly as much!

As per most successful teen novels, Beautiful Creatures is a love story with a dark background. No vampires or werewolves here though; nor a fairy or angel. Instead we're dealing with witches, or as they're called in the book, Casters. I think a successful supernatural story comes with either a completely believable monster or a completely unbelievable one. Books like Twilight are great as fairy tales, but vampires that can walk around in the day and boys that turn into wolves the size of ponies? It's a step too far. However, the possibility of a family of witches in small-town America is infinitely more likely, and infinitely more spooky.

Taking advantage of its location in America's Deep South, where the swamps breed superstition and the legacy of voodoo is never far away, Beautiful Creatures is full of strange happenings, eerie elements and a fight against fate itself. Ethan Wate's life is thrown into turmoil when a new girl arrives at his school - a girl he has seen in his dreams. Lena Duchannes is everything a popular girl isn't. She doesn't look right or act right, but Ethan is drawn to her and unable to resist the draw of the power that links them. I liked the fact that until Lena turned up, Ethan was a normal guy. He had friends, he was on the basketball team, he did okay in school. All that changes though as he gets closer to Lena. The fact that he is willing to become an outcast at school makes us like and trust him as a character. He has a lot to deal with as Lena gradually allows him to get closer to her and reveals her unusual family and her powers, but he stands strong. Lena is scared to get close to him because she believes she is cursed, but he won't let her push him away. He's the strong guy who will fight battles for her and do anything to prove to her that he loves her. He's every girl's dream boyfriend!

Garcia & Stohl do a great job of creating a world you can get totally lost in. The Deep South is like another world to me, living in the UK. It's probably like another world to plenty of people living in the top half of the US as well. I think that's why there are so many great books based there. The weird and wonderful seems that bit more believable if it happens in the South. Our pair of authors weave a rich tapestry as a background to Ethan and Lena's story - the world they inhabit, the way they think and the little things that combine to make up their lives are described in just enough detail to pull us in and hold us until the last page is turned.
There is enough life in this book that it doesn't need to rely on a ridiculously fast pace with tragedy and danger on every other page. Instead, the story builds gradually, sucking you deeper and deeper in as it goes. It reminds me of Stiefvater's Shiver trilogy in some ways - it's raw and elemental; the path of true love does not run smooth, and it's obviously a book-lover's tale. There was just one element of the story that didn't quite sit right with me. Casters don't see themselves as mortal, and have a rule that a Caster and a Mortal can't be together. I don't think they are removed enough from us mere mortals for that to ring true though.
Niggles aside, I'll definitely be buying Beautiful Darkness to see what happens next, and I've just read that Beautiful Creatures has been made into a film, due out in February 2013 so I'll be interested to see how that goes. I just hope it's better than the Twilight movies - let's face it, it can't be much worse!
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