When I first heard of Kami Garcia's and Margaret Stohl's novel (and corresponding series) Beautiful Creatures, I was excited by the Southern Gothic plot, but wary of a book with two authors. And of course, the teen paranormal romance genre of young adult fiction is haunted by the looming, glittery specter of Twilight. While there are some great ideas going on in Stohl's and Garcia's first entry in the series, there are lots of flaws in the novel that really add up. Whether or not these cons outweigh the pros of this novel depends upon your taste level. For my readership, the negatives stop this fun novel from becoming the excellent young adult experience this book wanted to be.
Taking place in the fictional coastal South Carolina town of Gatlin, Beautiful Creatures follows Ethan Wate as a new girl, Lena Duchannes, moves to town. The niece of an infamous recluse in town, Lena immediately shakes up Gatlin's dynamic. The townspeople's initial reaction to Lena's arrival is a little overzealous and aggressive even for a reader like me, who grew up in a not dissimilar southern town. It's a little confusing why these people instantly hate her, other than her uncle is assumed to be "weird" and that she's an outsider. This, for me, was an early example of poor storytelling going on in the book--writing that asks you to suspend your disbelief without giving you any reason to do so, or any trust to hang it on.
Much of the novel revolves around Lena's imminent "claiming." She will either become good or evil, Light or Dark, and she has no control over what happens. An interesting premise, yes, but one without much chutzpah behind it. Instead of learning some or any consequences of turning Dark, which Lena fears for literally hundreds of pages, we just have to assume that turning Dark is the worst thing that could happen to a person. Lena's cousin Ridley, who was recently claimed Dark, shows up but for most of the novel she is little more than a prankster. Even when she finally does something wicked toward the novel's end, she fails to follow through on it. So this hugely major point of the plot is actually a facade with no structure behind it. Because of this poor planning, the novel tends to chase its own tale, seemingly doing little more than thickening the book.
The paranormal romance genre tends to rely more on the teen romance than the paranormal, which is a real detriment to Beautiful Creatures. Lena and Ethan go on only one "date" in the novel, but spend much time together getting to know each other. There's not a lot of depth we see in this relationship, but maybe I'm just a cynical old twentysomething who no longer understands teen love.
Bottom Line: With plot flaws and missed opportunities throughout, the great characters and setting never really get the opportunity to shine that they deserve. Perhaps subsequent volumes in the series probe a greater depth, but at over 500 pages, the first book really should have delivered. And as the sequels are just as long I have to ask--why bother?
You can find Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl's paranormal romance young adult series at your local chain bookstore, online or at an independent bookstore near you (click here for a list). You can also download the eBook to your favorite reading device. Don't miss the movie in theaters now!