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

If their track record is anything to go by, writing partners Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl are a force to be reckoned with.

All three books in their “The Caster Chronicles” series have not just achieved commercial success, but critical acclaim as well.

The first book in the series, “Beautiful Creatures”, made it onto Amazon’s Best Books of 2009, placing fifth in a list that consisted of 100 books. The book made it to the New York Times Bestseller list, and is now a movie starring Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons.

The next two books, “Beautiful Darkness” and “Beautiful Chaos”, charted on the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists respectively, with “Beautiful Darkness” debuting in the top three.

Will Garcia and Stohl’s winning streak extend to “Beautiful Redemption”, the last book in “The Caster Chronicles”? Or will it be a lackluster end to a series that had such beautiful beginnings?

At the end of “Beautiful Chaos”, Ethan Wate had to sacrifice himself in order to fix the Order of Things, which had been thrown off-balance by the resurrection spell that Lena and Amma had used to bring him back from the dead in “Beautiful Creatures”.

But rather than finding himself in the afterlife, Ethan is stuck in limbo with his mother and the other departed souls of Gatlin who still have unfinished business back in the realm of the living. It’s in this purgatorial state that Ethan learns that he can go back to the family he’s left behind, and set everything right in the process.

But the road to redemption is far from easy, as Ethan discovers that enemies new and old are conspiring against him in the Otherworld. Not only that, Ethan has to find a way to contact his living loved ones for his mission to succeed, or else he will be stuck in limbo forever.

With supernatural forces on both sides of existence working against them, Ethan and Lena  only have their trust and love for each other to help them on their journey back to each other. The question is whether those two things will be enough.

In the span of three years, Garcia and Stohl have created a memorable and magical world in the imaginary Southern town of Gatlin, South Carolina. Gatlin — with its eclectic townspeople and centuries-old plantation houses — is as big a character as anybody else in the series, and is a source of much of the series’ appeal.

Gatlin’s important role in the series is felt even more accutely in “Beautiful Redemption”, which is set almost entirely in the Otherworld. Without the town to ground the narrative, the book ends up being an exercise in blandness, sorely missing the local color that Gatlin infused it with.

While an intriguing concept, the Otherworld that Garcia and Stohl offer up to the readers lacks the strong foundation that Gatlin has built up over the past three books. Ethan is just raring to leave the Otherworld behind, and readers will probably feel the same way.

The Far Keep, which was first introduced to readers in “Beautiful Chaos”, makes a return near the end of the book, but it has lost much of the grandeur and menace it had it had in the previous book. Rather than be awe-inspiring, it’s just another pit stop towards Ethan’s triumphant return to Gatlin.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all is that when Ethan finally reaches Gatlin, readers only have less than 50 pages left to read. Even then, the small town still manages to charm; it remains resolutely stuck to its ways even after going through such cataclysmic events.

Beloved characters like Amma and Macon are also painfully absent from most of the book,  with Ethan and Lena’s longing for each other taking center stage even more so than before. This is quite unfortunate, as the two teenagers’ love story has often been one of the series’ weak points.

Much like the Far Keep, the villains in “Beautiful Redemption” no longer stand as tall as they previously did, and not just because they are destined to be defeated. Abraham and Sarafine, who have effectively terrorized Ethan and Lena throughout the series, are disposed of in such anti-climactic ways that it’s hard not to feel cheated. The villain  Angelus, introduced in the previous book, lacks so much groundwork that it’s difficult to accept him as a legitimate threat.

The plot is as straightforward as Ethan’s journey through the Otherworld, and the climactic scene near the end of “Beautiful Redemption” is far from shocking or surprising. It’s a twist that would have better served “Beautiful Chaos” and would have spared readers the tedium of having to go through this book.

All the loose ends are neatly tied up in this final installment, but it comes at the cost of what made the first three books good. While longtime readers will probably stick around to see how the story ends, they might finish reading wondering if the journey was worth it at all.

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