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

Here’s my review of “Beautiful Darkness” that came out last year, pretty much copy-pasted from the website of the paper I write for. A lot of stuff got cut because of space concerns.

Back in 2009, the writing team of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl broke into the field of young adult (YA) literature with a splash, via the publication of their debut novel, “Beautiful Creatures”.

Moody and atmospheric, “Beautiful Creatures” was hailed by critics and readers, propelling it up the New York Times Bestseller list and prompted online retailer to name it the Best Teen Book of 2009.

In “Beautiful Creatures”, readers are introduced to the fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina, where 16-year-old Ethan Wate has been having terrifying dreams about Lena Duchannes, the niece of neighborhood recluse, Macon Ravenwood.

Throughout the novel, Ethan discovers that Lena comes from a long and powerful line of Casters, supernatural beings who have various magical powers. He also finds out about the centuries-long curse that has plagued Lena’s family: On the night of their 16th birthday, Casters in Lena’s family are “Claimed’’ either by the Light or the Dark – without them having a say in the matter.

By the novel’s end, things have come to a standstill for Ethan and Lena. Lena has avoided being Claimed, but has lost her beloved Uncle Macon in the process. Sarafine, Lena’s mother who is intent on turning her Dark, has escaped and left Ethan with the knowledge that he and Lena can never be together without him ending up dead in the process.

Hanging above all of them is the choice that Lena has to make on her 17th birthday – whether to side with the Light or with the Dark.

Most, if not all, of these conundrums are given a satisfying resolution in “Beautiful Darkness”, Garcia and Stohl’s follow up to “Beautiful Creatures”.

The two authors not only take readers back to Gatlin, but take them beyond that sleepy Southern town and into a dangerous network of underground tunnels that hide the secrets of Casters and mortals alike.

The biggest strength that “Beautiful Creatures” has is Garcia and Stohl’s vivid descriptions of small town life and small town prejudices. The town of Gatlin is practically a main character in “Beautiful Creatures”, its influence heavy on all the characters and the decisions that they make.

Garcia and Stohl still dish out this wonderful grasp of local color in their latest offering, and do themselves one better by expanding the length and breadth of their setting, introducing the long and winding tunnels that snake underneath the town. The tunnels are more than just passageways; they hold the secrets that change how the main characters see and interact with the worlds that they move in.

And secrets definitely abound in the book, especially among the family of the characters readers thought they already knew from the first book. These secrets are cleanly placed within the plot, with the revelations feeling organic to the story and not like a plot device inserted just to move the story along.

With the romantic relationship between Ethan and Lena already established in the first book, Garcia and Stohl are freed from the love story that bogged down parts of “Beautiful Creatures”.

This is something that readers should definitely be excited about, as the plot now moves at a quicker pace.

Because of their continued grasp of local color, their impressive handling of the family dynamics between the eccentric inhabitants of Gatlin, and the ever-expanding universe that their characters move in, Garcia and Stohl only seem to get better with each book in the series.

With two more books left in the series, fans of YA and gothic literature certainly have much to look forward to in the coming years.

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