Book review: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s “Beautiful Chaos”

The dynamic duo of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl has certainly proved profitable over the past couple of years.

Ever since the pair came out with “Beautiful Creatures” in 2009, they’ve been jumping from one success to another. Not only was “Beautiful Creatures” a New York Times bestseller, it was hailed by Amazon as one of the best books of 2009, placing fifth in a list that consisted of 100 books.

“Beautiful Darkness”, which came out a year after, was also a success, rocketing up the New York Times Bestseller List. To top it all off, the series looks to be adapted into a movie by Warner Brothers.

This year, the series enters the final stretch as Garcia and Stohl bring us “Beautiful Chaos”, the penultimate book in the four-part series. The pair bring us back to the small, fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina, where teenage lovers Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes continue to grapple with the many difficulties – mortal and supernatural – that continue to plague their relationship.

At the end of “Beautiful Darkness”, Ethan and Lena have achieved what seems to be a victory over Sarafine, Lena’s Dark Caster mother, and Abraham Ravenwood, an evil Blood Incubus who also happens to be Lena’s great-great-great-grandfather. Rather than letting herself be Claimed by the Darkness, Lena has declared herself a child of both Light and Dark, spoiling Abraham and Sarafine’s plans for her.

However, that victory comes at a steep price. Lena’s decision has upset the Order of Things, and it has resulted in what can only be described as the apocalypse descending on Gatlin – swarms of locusts have descended upon the town, the lake has inexplicably dried up, and an unusual, overbearing heat has enveloped the whole town with no promise of letting up.

But more than just the End of Days, Ethan is dealing with a problem all his own. Since returning from their trip in the Caster Tunnels of Gatlin, Ethan has slowly been becoming less and less of himself, forgetting such basic things about himself such as his phone number and his own memories. Even more distressing is the dreams he has of dying at the hands of someone who looks exactly like him.

As Abraham and Sarafine begin to make their presence felt in Gatlin once again, Ethan and Lena have to find out how to set the Order back the way it was if they ever want their relationship to last beyond their teenage years. But as it becomes increasingly clear that the price for peace comes at too high a cost for Ethan and Lena, will they have the strength to go for it – even at the cost of their own happy ending?

After taking readers to the dangerous supernatural world that exists underneath Ethan’s home town, Garica and Stohl bring the action back to Gatlin, where they fully exploit their considerable grasp of local color. As with “Beautiful Creatures”, Gatlin and its people is as much a character in this story as Ethan, Lena and the assorted Casters and Incubi that surround them.

Even in the face of such apocalyptic events, Gatlin remains resolutely itself, immersed in its own petty, small town troubles. It’s charming and frustrating at the same time, and Garcia and Stohl write it like someone who’s been immersed in such an environment their whole life. For readers who’ve been with the story from the very beginning, it’s like coming back home.

This relationship between Gatlin and the readers that Garcia and Stohl have cultivated over the years works in their favor as it becomes clear in the course of “Beautiful Chaos” that a huge sacrifice has to be paid to bring things back the way it was. By now, Gatlin and its people are as much the reader’s family as it is Ethan’s, and when it appears that leaving it is the only action that can be made, one can’t help but grieve the loss.

The plot that Garcia and Stohl weave in this volume is also expertly executed, with the pair succeeding in maintaing the tension all throughout the book while at the same time holding all their cards close to their chest. There are fewer answered questions in “Beautiful Chaos” than in the previous two, but the novel ends on such a dramatic note that this concern is easily overshadowed.

The ending of “Beautiful Chaos” is definitely one that fans of the series will be talking about long after they’ve finished it. While heavily hinted at throughout the book – smarter readers will probably figure it out early on – the book’s conclusion will still manage to draw a visceral reaction from readers.

“Beautiful Chaos” is a great addition to an already great series, and bodes well for the concluding book in Garcia and Stohl’s “Caster Chronicles”. If the pair maintains the quality of their work, the final book will deifnitely be something to look out for.

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