Thursday, September 1, 2011

Southern Hospitality and Things that go Bump: My Review of "Beautiful Creatures" 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 though, when I closed my battered cop of Slaughterhouse-Five, clicked off my iPod, and turned out the light on the last night of summer.
Turns out, I couldn’t ave been more wrong.
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.
I never even saw it coming.
Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

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.

                I was definitely not sure what to expect with this one.

                I started to see this book cover popping up around the blogosphere about two years ago or so. The cover automatically got me interested and I clicked on a few pages and noticed that there were two authors. I hesitated (for two years!) thinking that two authors might make it choppy, or you would be able to see the pull of one over the other in a way that wouldn’t be pleasing to read, or that the story itself would suffer for having too many pens on the page, or so to speak. In general I was worried that all the hype would make it fail, since when I read it I might not be as taken with it as other bloggers.

                And there it sat until I uncovered it (Queen Victoria, Demon Slayer and What the Dog Saw were on top of it) this summer, and tried it out …


                For the most part, anyway.

                I am sure I have mentioned this before, but I am a huge fan of the Southern Gothic genre … I am a huge fan of gothic anything really – see my huge love for Victoria Holt and the Bronte Sisters for proof (As a side note, I think I almost gave a book seller a heart attack when I claimed that Jane Austen was okay, but the Bronte sisters really own classical novels. Poor man is a Jane Austen historian, I later found out.) – and this modern rendition of the Southern gothic has creepy and intriguing in spades – as well as a healthy dose of teenage angst, creepy Stepford Wife –like townspeople and a couple of things I found on True Blood – which, as a Canadian, I recognize as Southern (Or, as Smithy likes to remind me Suthern – they pronounce it without the “o” – so “S-ow-thern” becomes “S-uh-thern” all soft like).

                Our main characters and love-struck couple are Ethan Wate – native of Gatlin and heir to a crumbling plantation house complete with shut-in father, sassy but extremely intelligent nanny and creepy locked doors that open by themselves – and Lena Duchannes – travelling wonder girl with a knack for making enemies of cheerleaders, and new housemate with shut-in and possibly vampiric uncle, the town hermit, Macon.

                Ethan is whose eyes we get to see from – which does, unfortunately usually, mean a lot of snide remarks about small towns and such. I usually don’t mind that, and with Lena to temper him out, I actually didn’t find it offensive. Especially not when introduced to the insane residents of Gatlin. Like Ethan’s best friend, Link’s Mom. She’s the head of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and general prissy, stick in the mud Stepford model housewife. Super creepy. And she is not the only version of her breed around – there are plenty of members of the DAR, and other townsfolk who are equally as unappetizing. Especially the cheerleaders – who are, yes it’s a tad stereotypical, mean cut throat elitists with chips on their shoulder, too much makeup and hairspray and the IQ of a carrot.

                That being said, the tension in this book is palatable and hot – it’s a ride into the very heart of the Southern Gothic: we are introduced into a little town that looks boring at first, but three steps beyond the town limit we begin discovering secrets, hidden in the open, and you don’t stop until you turn the last page. It is a thriller in a sense – we are told that Lena has six months before something life-altering happens to her, and she may turn evil. Of course, you have Ethan who is like “Never!” and Lena who is like “Uh, quite possibly!” and cushioned by that is the fact that the two are drawn together through seemingly coincidences and a shared vision – or visions, of the end of the civil war in Gatlin. Those visions are key in a way, to linking up the YA Paranormal Romance that this is classified as, to the Southern Gothic mysteries that came before it. It is what pushes it over the edge of simple to complex, and it is what gives it the added padding to keep reading. So well was it done that I looked forward to each vision and the puzzle piece it would bring, even though I knew there would be much sadness too.

                The layers of secrets in Gatlin paves the way for more books (Yes, am aware – 1.5 sequels already out, and another on the way) and more stories – especially since the resolution was more defference then resolution – like a television show that is doing well and needs material for another season, the putting off of a real resolution here, works for the advantage that we will get more books … but I still kind of wanted something.

                The romance, ah yes, I had to make a note of this. The romance in this book is an interesting breed I see a lot of in YA these days – a mixture of teen angst (Should I kiss her? Does she like me? What If she laughs in my face?) and destiny (we’re pulled together and so on). Not a bad thing, and it certainly sells but as I have said before – passion is what matters to me – those moments where your tummy summersaults because of a well written line, or a few barbs exchanged between potential lovers. Ethan is too sweet to exchange barbs, and he loves Lena so completely that their passion is almost diminutive – they have time, so why waste it all in the first book? So it is more romance then passion, but it works … and I am hanging my hat on more amorous scenes in the sequels!

                Beautiful Creatures was a great book, a captivating Southern gothic mystery and a good doorway into a larger world. The authors were able to world-build in a surprisingly tight space – within the Gatlin limits – and pulled it off with enough grace that when the twists come – you’re left wondering how? I am definitely going out to search for the sequels and will report back – I think I will be thrilled to read them.

Up Next to Review : Some Like it Wicked & Some Like it Wild by Teresa Medeiros

Read if you liked:
  • Secret Circle by L.J. Smith
  • Tithe by Holly Black

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