Wednesday, June 13, 2012

[review] Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl - Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1)

Title: Beautiful Creatures
Authors: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Series: Caster Chronicles, #1
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.
Format read: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Buy from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookdepository
Summary (via Goodreads):
There were no surprises in Gatlin County.
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that's what I thought.

Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.

There was a curse.

There was a girl.

And in the end, there was a grave.

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.
Random paragraph: "The room was frozen, except it wasn't. I was frozen. My father was frozen. His eyes were narrow, his lips rounded to form sounds that hadn't had a chance to escape his lips. Still staring at the plateful of mashed potatoes, untouched. The Sisters, Aunt Caroline, and Marian were like statues. Even the air was perfectly still. The pendulum of the grandfather clock had stopped in mid-swing." (p. 288, paperback edition)

I'll be upfront: I'm disappointed because this could have been totally awesome.

Beautiful Creatures popped up on my radar when I got a hankering for a book with a Southern setting. I searched the tags on Goodreads and found this story, set in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina. When I picked it up in Books-A-Million (where it was on sale for a splendid $3.97), I fell in love from the first few lines:
There were only two kinds of people in our town. "The stupid and the stuck," my father had affectionately classified our neighbors. "The ones who are bound to stay or too dumb to go. Everyone else finds a way out."
The prologue elaborates: it's not the Civil War, it's the War Between the States (or the War of Northern Aggression, if you're over 60). There's no Starbucks or McDonald's. You have to hitch a ride to an out-of-town movie theater. And the possums are angry and mean. It's not a small town as seen in movies, it's real.

The protagonist, Ethan, is sullen, thoughtful, and can't wait to leave. He stashes college brochures underneath his bed, out of sight from his grieving father. Gatlin is perfectly normal in every aspect... until Lena, the niece of the local crazy recluse, shows up. She literally brings a storm with her, and nothing is quite the same after that.

Naturally, the town's residents don't take too kindly to Lena: she's quiet, "different," and causes a ruckus by accidentally shattering a window in class. Although the descriptions of her resulting ostracization from the local high school seem over-the-top at times, I couldn't take much offense because, to many, that's a daily reality. I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel, actually: the traditions and opinions of long-time residents (such as Amma and the Sisters) and how they react to outsiders. However, Lena's frightened of her powers: most of all, she's afraid of her sixteenth birthay.

This is where the book jumped off a cliff for me.

I loved the book when everything seemed mysterious. A good example is what happens with the locket at Greenbrier, and the Civil War flashbacks of Gatlin's burning. Amma and Macon Ravenwood (Lena's uncle) are freaked out by the locket, but it's not really explained why: naturally, when Amma tells Ethan to bury it, he bucks her advice. I also loved the descriptions of Ravenwood Manor, especially Kitchen. But then, halfway through the book, Ethan comes to Ravenwood Manor and sees Lena's family performing a protection spell on her, complete with Latin chanting. We find out that she's a Caster, and on her sixteenth birthday, she'll either be claimed for Light or Dark; her cousin Riley went Dark, and she's terrified of following the same path.

So... free will isn't an option? There's no gray area? Now everything's just obvious Latin chanting, with several confusing capitalized titles? Weak. With this, the book's magic completely disappeared for me. And although that was touched upon in later sections of the novel, it didn't satisfy me.

I still finished the book. It wasn't completely without its good points. I loved some of the characters, including Amma, Macon, and even Sarafine. There were instances when the feeling I loved returned (such as the meeting to discus Lena's expulsion), so I kept reading. But the ending was incredibly disappointing to me, and I really don't think I'll be reading the next one.

Overall: YMMV, but the Southern gothic atmosphere I adored was marred by the juvenile descriptions of magic.

No comments:

Post a Comment