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

It was around 2009, I think, that I first heard about Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s young adult work, “Beautiful Creatures”. It came with such intense hype — Amazon named it one of the best books of 2009 only a month after its release — that I immediately snatched it up the moment it showed up in local bookstores.

I started reading “Beautiful Creatures” with a little bit of trepidation, as that large hype more often than not results in equally huge disappointment, but found myself pleasantly surprised by the book. When “Beautiful Darkness” came out a year later, I got myself a copy immediately.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I finally got myself a copy of the third book in the series, “Beautiful Chaos”, and I can’t wait to get started on it as soon as I get my suddenly jam-packed work schedule in order. But just so everyone has an idea about this series, I’ll be posting the reviews of “Beautiful Creatures” and “Beautiful Darkness” that I wrote for my day job while I’m reading “Beautiful Chaos”.

Set in the fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina, “Beautiful Creatures” tells the story of 16-year-old Ethan Wate, who has been having dreams of a beautiful green-eyed girl whom he always fails to save from an unseen danger.

Things change when Lena Duchannes, the niece of the neighborhood recluse, moves into town. Not only is she the girl that Ethan has literally been dreaming about, she is also something else entirely, and strange things begin to happen in the town with her arrival.

As Ethan finds himself falling in love with her, he also finds himself caught in a curse that has plagued Lena’s family for centuries, a curse that may put an end to their burgeoning relationship and even to Lena’s own being. With time running out for the both of them, Ethan and Lena have to find a way to end the curse or lose each other forever.

“Twilight” and “Beautiful Creatures” may both be supernatural romances, but that is where their similarities end.

It is a treat to read Ethan interacting with the good – and bad – people of Gatlin, as they are such strongly-drawn characters with interesting personalities. While “Twilight” focused intently on the relationship between Edward Cullen and Bella Swan and pretty much nothing else, “Beautiful Creatures” is a well-plotted tale set in a richly described Southern setting, populated with eclectic characters that are sure to draw the reader in with their distinctive stories of their own.

The supernatural world that Garcia and Stohl introduce us to is also drawn with equal skill. After immersing their readers in the “mortal” half of Gatlin, they take us into the supernatural side of the town, where an underground library exists underneath the town, unknown to its mortal residents, and where houses take on the temperament of the people who live in it.

The town itself is a character as engaging as any of the people in the story. With its murky, alligator infested swamps and plantation houses that are centuries old, the town of Gatlin is a vibrant, constant presence that the readers is constantly conscious of. It is entirely so easy to get lost in Garcia and Stohl’s lush Southern setting, and readers may not necessarily want to get out.

“Beautiful Creatures” is also ahead of “Twilight” with regards to plot. The book is so much more than a supernatural romance – it is a family drama with twists as melodramatic as a Filipino teleserye and a well-thought out back story that definitely needs more exploring. Readers are bound to stay up way past their bedtime to find out what happens next.

But that is not to say that “Beautiful Creatures” is one of the better young adult novels to come out in recent time. While the town and the supporting characters that surround Ethan and Lena are interesting and engaging, the two main characters are strangely unappealing and not as strongly drawn.

While the love story was the strongest aspect in “Twilight”, it is the one that bogs down the action in “Beautiful Creatures”. Ethan and Lena have no chemistry whatsoever, and reading the chapters that focus on that aspect of the book often ends up being a tedious affair. As a result, the book ends up being a little uneven, with moments of suspense and excitement that are cut – much to the readers’ frustration – to accommodate Ethan and Lena’s relationship.

The book’s climax, while satisfying, does not tie up as neatly as one would except, and one can’t help but wish that Garcia and Stohl had decided to focus on developing their fictional world’s mythology rather than its love story. Hopefully, Garcia and Stohl get to rectify the situation in the sequel that is implied at the end of the story.

Despite these flaws, “Beautiful Creatures” is still an entirely satisfactory debut. The only thing Garcia and Stohl need to do know is to find a balance between the mush that is Ethan and Lena’s love story and the richer and infinitely more fascinating setting that they reside in.

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