Ethan Wate is sixteen years old, scion of an old Southern family in a little South Carolina town. His mother has died, and his grieving father has locked himself into his study. He has three dotty great-aunts, and his housekeeper, Amma, is bringing him up on a strong brew of fierce love, hot breakfast, an intimate connection with the town’s grapevine, and a few voodoo charms thrown in for good measure.
Ethan feels as if the town’s complete stagnation is slowly destroying his soul. Then Lena Duchannes arrives. The mysterious new girl is the niece of the town’s reclusive—and unpopular—eccentric, who lives in a crumbling mansion on the outskirts of town. “There were no surprises in Gatlin County. We were pretty much the epicenter of nowhere,” Ethan muses in the first chapter. “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. I never even saw it coming.”
Lena quickly draws Ethan into her Caster world, one that is peopled with all-seeing wolves, an Incubus uncle, a wickedly sexy Siren cousin, an utterly evil mother, and other spell-casters of all types and powers. As Lena and Ethan fall in love—a kind of love that spans centuries and has haunted his dreams—they race against time to save her from becoming a Dark Caster on her sixteenth birthday, all while defying the town’s violent rejection of Lena and all she stands for.
The first-person narration by go-along-to-get-along Ethan wavers in spots, as when he comments far too knowledgably about ante-bellum architecture or girly fashions. And a few threads unravel toward the end, such as what happens after they leave Ethan’s spell-bound father on the damp grass outside a museum. Amma’s role in the climatic ending is rather random, as is the simultaneous Civil War battle reenactment. A pruning of some of this overgrowth might have improved the book.
Despite these problems, the book stands up to scrutiny. The plot of Beautiful Creatures is somewhat predictable, but the pacing is brisk and the characters charming enough to keep a reader going through the entire 568 pages. Written by two Los Angeles authors—one with game-writing credits, and the other with the Southern roots—it is rich in visual imagery and offers many amusing tweaks on Southern obsessions with family, food, and the War of Northern Aggression. Bottom line: this is a strong debut novel by two talented writers and a good read for young people twelve and up. No graphic sex or violence but plenty of romantic love and paranormal pyrotechnics. Oh, and great cover.
Tagged: Children & YA