Beautiful Creatures is another of those books I’ve been hearing about for a while, and I finally decided to grab it from the library last week.
Written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, it’s a love story in which supernatural powers threaten to tear apart young lovers – but the curse at the heart of this tale has nothing to do with the undead or changelings.
Ethan is desperate to break free from the small town – and its small town mentality. He sees his chance when strange and beautiful Lena arrives. Already linked through disturbing dreams, the two are drawn to each other despite the disapproval of pretty much the entire town.
Lena is counting down to her sixteenth birthday, when her fate will be decided, thanks to a curse unleashed by an ancestor in the midst the Civil War.
Ethan soon discovers Lena has powers she can barely control, and as he learns more about her family history – and her possible fate – he realises there’s also much more to his home town than meets the eye.
In a nutshell, Beautiful Creatures is a classic Deep Southern gothic tale with a paranormal twist.
Garcia and Stohl cleverly weave together the murky history of the Civil War with a parallel history of a dark and mystical founding family now shunned by the Confederate descendents.
While the story at times feels a little drawn out, especially in the second half of the book, the plot strands all come together well at the end and make the journey worthwhile.
The countdown to Lena’s birthday helps build tension, and there are a couple of clever twists when the inevitable showdown occurs (it would give away too much to explain who’s involved in that final confrontation – so I won’t).
The history of the Confederacy, and the way in which the Civil War is often selectively remembered in the South, is critical to the mood and tension in Beautiful Creatures.
Garcia at least, has Southern roots and “still makes her biscuits by hand and her pies from scratch”. She also has relatives in the Daughters of the American Revolution, but has managed to avoid participating in a Civil War Reenactment herself. Ethan’s attitude to the Civil War (or, as often called in the South, the War Between the States), is probably a reasonable of Garcia’s.
Both authors’ love of history and literature comes through clearly, adding texture to an already nicely layered story.
My only quibbles are relatively minor: the bitchy teen Southern belles who rule Gatlin High often come off as one dimensional and Ethan – while a likable narrator – is remarkably sensitive for a hormonally charged sixteen-year-old boy. But hey, maybe there is still such a thing as a Southern gentleman?
Beautiful Creatures ends on a satisfying note, but still leaves some big questions unanswered – ensuring plenty of interest in the next instalment, Beautiful Darkness (due out in October).