Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
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.
Okay, so I went back and forth on this one—there were moments where I absolutely loved this book, and there were moments where I just sat there and asked, “What?” In the long run, I decided that I liked the ups and downs even less than having just a mediocre book, so even though this one had great moments, for me it just didn’t work on the whole. That said, let’s talk about what did and didn’t work for me.
The general concepts presented at the beginning (roughly for the first 1/3-1/2) of the book seemed a little cliche to me. You have a small town, a character who wants to leave the small town, and another character forced to move to the small town who has to overcome challenges as a result of being an outsider. (Gee, this is beginning to sound an awful lot like Twilight). To be fair, this didn’t bother me too much because Garcia and Stohl did twist it up a little from the norms of the genre in a couple of ways: the character from the small town is the one telling the story instead of the outsider; the character telling the story is the boy and not the girl. Overall, this setup worked for me, and to be honest, the storyline and the concepts presented in this world really needed that kind of setting, and once you’ve set a book in a small town, the obvious step is to introduce the kind of conflict I’ve already outlined. In spite of this logic, this made me a little reluctant at the beginning of the book.
Oh, and somehow Ethan is having dreams of this girl, who happens to be the girl who shows up in town. And a random song keeps playing around him. This is never really explained. I mean, yes, they say that Ethan and Lena have some sort of mystical bond, but no effort was taken at all to explain why that means this song keeps playing. I know I read fantasy, but really? I am not the kind of reader who doesn’t like to understand how the world works, because magic has rules. You don’t have to spell them out and make it obvious, but at least give me enough to work with. (By the way, this isn’t something that really bothered me until the end of the book, when that irritating song changed again and I had a general “What the hell?” reaction.)
Now that the stage is set we come across the introduction of the primary conflict, which is driven by the setup of the world. Initially, I found it intriguing. There are casters and there are lillum (which I still don’t think got a very clear explanation), and of the casters, some go light and some go dark. This is done through a “claiming” process when the caster turns sixteen. At midnight. Apparently at midnight directly after having an entire day of birthday in there. And there’s some weirdness with the significance of the moon that I can’t get into here, but I didn’t really understand either what happened or why it mattered (or even why it was supposedly so unique). There was also a locket that bore a great deal of significance (this was obvious from the get-go, so I don’t feel bad sharing)—initially I understood how the locket fit into the story-line, but eventually it lost its significance to me but not to the main characters, which I found very frustrating. There were some other areas that I thought were somewhat unclear, but I can’t get into them here without getting into some spoilers.
So let’s talk about this a little bit. I know that sometimes I miss some really obvious things while I read—when I read Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost for instance, I got almost all the way to the end before I realized that Martin was a little person, though I’ve since been assured that it was really pretty obvious from the beginning. So I’m not saying that these passages I’m commenting on weren’t confusing to me because I just didn’t pick up on something. But I’m not normally the kind of person who has a great deal of difficulty following the motivations of a plot, and even if I miss one or two things, there were a lot of times where I found myself questioning why a character cared about something, or what the cause/effect was. Most of these holes were really minor—so minor, in fact, that I didn’t think about most of them until I was almost done with the book. But they compound upon each other, and I did reach a point toward at the climax of the book where I just was flat-out confused. It was resolved, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t like getting to that point in the first place.
Speaking of the climax … The pacing toward the end of the book felt a little off to me, and this might just be a result of when I had to set the book down and do something else more so than the writing. When I think about the shape of the climax portion of a book, I generally envision something similar to how you’re supposed to control your airflow while playing oboe (I realize that most/all of you don’t play oboe, but I think my meaning will be clear anyway). Once you get into the portion of the story that would be considered the climax, you want to start with the air already moving (that is, I’m already blowing before I take my tongue off the reed and allow a sound to be made). This part was great in this book—I didn’t feel like there was any taper off or dip between the set-up and the climax. However, from there, in order to keep a clear and beautiful sound (and stay in tune), you want to think about your air moving faster and faster (I’m convinced that this is psychology to get the air speed to keep from trickling off, but whatever works, right?). I don’t think that Kami and Stohl succeeded here—we got right up to a really intense scene, and the intensity never really grew. In fact, it was like we hit a dirt road, and then maybe a snowdrift that tugged us along a different direction for a little while before we got traction again (sorry for the mixed analogies). There were interruptions to the build-up that just distracted me from the suspense when they didn’t need to (I would have used a little less dialog between Ethan and the supporting characters, personally). And even if you smoothed out the interruptions, there was basically a leap up to high suspense and we plateaued at that level for a really long time. And then it was resolved.
And then they came back to that really irritating song, after everything was wrapped up. (Again, this was something that didn’t bother me until much later in the book).
Don’t get me wrong—there were some really great things about this book, and the writing style, on the whole, was good. I’m super impressed that this was co-written because, for the most part, it doesn’t read like it is. But when I think about how I’m going to rate a book, I basically start at a 4/5, and the bad things chip away at that 4 and the good things tack onto it. Even though the bad things were all pretty small (and at first the dent in the that rating was minuscule), they added up by the time I got to the end. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll read book #2 or not …
Posted on August 21, 2013, in Urban Fantasy/Paranormal, Young Adult and tagged beautiful creatures, book reviews, books, caster chronicles, fantasy, kami garcia, margaret stohl, urban fantasy, witches, YA, young adult. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.