A Critical Review of Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
I was really looking forward to reading Beautiful Creatures. I actually talked like crazy on my Tumblr blog about how much I was anticipating reading this book, and how I couldn't wait to lose myself in the world of Gatlin, South Carolina. The movie trailers were intriguing and I had the idea that this was the type of novel that I was going to love.
Boy. I couldn't have been more wrong about this book. Not only did it take me three weeks to get through the entire novel, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a sense that continuing to read this saga would be intellectual suicide.
This is the typical boy-meets-girl story, told from the perspective of a sixteen year-old boy named Ethan Wate. In his dreams, he meets and falls in love with a girl who is utterly strange and completely remarkable. It is only then that she arrives in the town of Gatlin, bringing storms that follow her wherever she goes. Because Lena Duchannes, you see, is different. She's very different. In fact, she's a caster.
In my review of Beautiful Creatures, I'll tell you what I did and did not like about the novel. I've been very critical of it, and this is the third review that I'm writing. Every time I write another review of this book, I uncover more reasons that I simply didn't love it. I hope that you'll understand, and that if you did enjoy this story that you'll leave your comments at the end.
This is a spoiler-free review.
A Brief Summary of the Novel
Nothing ever changes in Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan Wate is desperate to get out, but he knows that he'll never leave Wate's landing, where generations of his father's family have lived. He's tired of the South, tired of their conservative ideals, tired of the War for Southern Independence, tired of the Daughters of the Revolution and just plain tired of Gatlin.
But lately he's been having strange dreams. Dreams from which he wakes up with dirt under his finger nails, his bed soaked in water (not sweat) and his bedroom window wide open. In the dreams there is a girl. She is amazing, beautiful and compelling. And Ethan is in love with the dream girl, even though he's never met her.
Then one day Lena Duchannes moves into town on a storm (during Hurricane Season) and the moment that Ethan lays eyes on her, he realizes that she is the girl from the dream, and that he is madly in love with her and has been since before they met.
What Ethan doesn't know (at least not in the beginning) is that Lena Duchannes comes from a long line of Casters (witches) and she has a lot to contend with -- including the fact that on her sixteenth birthday she will be Claimed for the Dark or for the Light and that she has no choice in which way she is claimed!
Boy is this book long.
At first I thought that I was enjoying the book, though later on I realized that was primarily because I felt like I was supposed to enjoy the book and not because I was really loving it. It took until I reached roughly 1/3 of the way through the book and realized that it was only just beginning to "get good" for me to realize that this book is entirely too long.
As I mentioned in my review of Safe Haven (by Nicholas Sparks), I don't particularly like this trend of taking nearly half of a book to develop characters who ultimately have very little personality to begin with. And like Safe Haven, these characters were underdeveloped.
What I Liked about Beautiful Creatures
The two characters at the right might be the only two redeeming features in this entire novel. If you're a reader and not a moviegoer, you'll just have to try to imagine that the upper image is of a gorgeous blonde sixteen year old and not of Emmy Rossum, who appears to me to be one of the worst casting choices in the history of casting choices.
Alright, so lets get down to business.
This book didn't come alive for me at all until Ridley entered the scene. She comes into the book about 1/3 of the way through the novel, introducing herself to Ethan and to his friends. Unlike her cousin, Lena (the heroine of the novel), everybody takes to her instantly -- including most of the people whose reviews of this book I've read. Interestingly enough, most people who downrate this book (as I have), love Ridley, but disliked the book generally.
Macon is something else entirely. While he appears early on in the novel (if only by rumor), he is dynamic and interesting (for the most part) and his character is fully-developed, which I cannot say for the majority of the teen characters in this novel. I wish that we had more of a chance to see his interludes with Amma and other adult characters in the book, but his parts were so brief that I was disappointed that I hadn't gotten enough of him (and Jeremy Irons in the movie does not hurt!).
These two characters make up the extent of what I enjoyed about this book. I tried very hard to like Beautiful Creatures and I wanted to love it more than anything. In fact, I was eager to get my hands on Beautiful Darkness and am only happy that I didn't jump the gun and waste my money!
What's Wrong with Beautiful Creatures?
As usual, I'm going to put this into list form. This is easier for me to do with books that I rate lower than with books that I rate high. Bear with me; this list is by no means short!
- It's written by two authors. Alright. Granted, these two did a good job of blending their styles together so that there isn't any jarring quality that you sometimes get when two people work on a book together. The problem with this pair is that their reasons for co-authoring a book are entirely bizarre; Garcia wanted to write a paranormal romance and Stohl wanted to write a story set in the South. So together they combined their ideas into a paranormal romance novel set in the South. The concept itself isn't terrible, except that there are some ideological clashes in the book.
- It's stereotypical and ridiculous. This book would have you believe that all Southerns think about nothing but the War for Southern Independence, that they are unable to get over it, and that all Southern Women wander around in hoop skirts. I may be exaggerating just a little bit, but it is implied that Southerns are prejudiced (I'd venture to say that the authors are!) and that they are intolerant idiots, generally speaking. This is as stereotypical as it comes, and is totally unfair to people who actually come from this part of the country!
- Two grown women writing from the first-person perspective of a teenage male. It can be done. I have no doubt in my mind that it can be done by someone who has studied the male psyche and is very cognizant of the hormonal feelings and urges of the average sixteen year-old boy. As it is, the running joke about this book is I didn't know Ethan was a guy! He is as feminine as a male protagonist can be without actually having a feminine name. At no point in the book is he believably male. This might appeal to some readers, but surely not to me.
- Ethan has no personality. Really. There's nothing to him. He's as one-dimensional as everyone is fond of saying Bella Swan is one-dimensional. There isn't much to him other than the fact that he runs with the popular kids, is a wiz at basketball and he's got the hots for Lena. He is as boring a protagonist as I've ever read in my entire life, and I've read Nicholas Sparks, so that's saying something.
- Lena acts 25, at least. Lena, who begins the book at the tender age of fifteen, acts at least twenty-five years old. At least at first. Once the meltdowns starts, she's more believably fifteen, but her maturity levels are all over the map. One minute she doesn't care what the girls at school think of her and the next minute the fact that they hate her is the end of the world. She's not a believable teenager at all. Ridley is pretty much the same. Maybe Emmy Rossum wasn't the worst pick for the role after all!
- I don't think that the authors know the meaning of the word "mortal." Casters are mortal. They can be killed and as far as I can tell, they live normal life spans. But the differentiation made between the different classes of characters is "mortal" and "Caster." This rubbed me wrong, even if perhaps it shouldn't have done so. I found it incredibly irritating, but the fact that there are other strange definitions in this book (which would spoil the story were I to reveal them) enhances my displeasure with this particular point.
- The book is slow to start. I've said that already. Some readers appear to feel that this book took of the start the way that it did in order to develop the setting and the characters, and that it did it well. But I have to say that a good writer doesn't need to work character development that way in order to accomplish what these two were going for; the story should give the personalities of the characters as it goes along, rather than taking 150 pages to bore the reader doing what you could have accomplished naturally.
Will I See the Movie?
Yes, I'm probably going to see the movie. My best friend has been eager to see it since the trailer was first released, and I know that she's going to want to see it in spite of my failure to enjoy the book.
The trailer (which you can watch at right) doesn't impress me all that much. It gives away enough to reveal the majority of the plot of the story (since there is so little to it to begin with) and I'm pretty sure that the fact that the actors are altogether too old to be playing such young character is going to come into play with me (though this is often the problem with young adult novels that are turned into movies).
My hope in seeing this is that in spite of the strange casting that it might be able to make up for what the book was lacking. Sometimes actors can round out characters that were flat to begin with (though Kristen Stewart -- who I think is amazing -- didn't manage it in Twilight).
My Book Links
- 2013 Reading List
This is my 2013 reading list, which lists all of the books that I have read during this calendar year. With any luck I will be running one of these every year, with a complete list of the books that I have read and opportunities to purchase them.
- True Confessions of a Bibliophile
My Tumblr blog, where I share information, quotes, and updates on the things that I'm currently reading. This is one of the two most interactive ways to get in touch with the way that I read and to find out what's coming up in my reviews here.
- New Confessions of a Bibliophile
My book blog on blogger, where I interact with the rest of the book blogging community. This is a more serious type of blog than my Tumblr, and while interactive, its purpose is to allow me to share with other bloggers and authors more than readers.
- Why I Prefer Reading on My Kindle Keyboard
I love reading on my Kindle, and most of the books that I review here have been read in the e-book format. If you're looking for a full list of the books that I've read and reviewed here on Hubpages, this page contains a list to those reviews.
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