Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is classified as a YA Southern Gothic Fantasy. It’s told in first person from the perspective of high school student Ethan Wate as he encounters the new girl, Lena Duchannes, the niece of the local recluse. As their relationship develops, Ethan discovers hidden secrets in his and Lena’s past. They also have to grapple with the curse on Lena’s family which determines whether she will turn into a Dark or Light Caster (basically a bad or good witch) on her sixteenth birthday.
I know this book was published in 2009, but I’ve been itching to read the series for a long time. **I’ve tried to keep the spoilers to minimum.** And although I rated the book 2 out of 5 stars, I’m almost interested in reading the others to see if they get any better. Let me know if you’ve read the series and your thoughts!
It’s not really my place to decide if the character Amma is a racist depiction of a southern black woman. What I can do is give you her character descriptions and let you decide for yourself. Although Ethan seems to be attached to her like a mother, Ethan’s sentiment alone doesn’t override the writer’s descriptions of Amma. She’s one of the few characters who talks with a dialect at times, she’s a devoted Christian and yet also follows a magical practice which is most similar to a stereotypical Southern voodoo, and she lacks much character depth besides these tropes. She mostly comes into the plot to cook, to contrast against Lena’s uncle, or to stop Ethan from doing something. So….yeah. For a book that mentions the Civil War often, it’s a little strange to have Amma be a stereotype.
“History was a bitch sometimes. You couldn’t change where you were from. But still, you didn’t have to stay there. You didn’t have to stay stuck in the past, like the ladies in the DAR, or the Gatlin Historical Society, or the Sisters. And you didn’t have to accept that things had to be the way they were, like Lena.”
What the book did seem to have was Civil War apologetics. Or what ended up looking like apologetics. Above is the scene where Ethan contemplates how it feels to be a part of the South, comparing his feelings about his own heritage to those who live in Germany after WWII. I guess we’re supposed to feel bad for him, but I really just…don’t? On one hand this might be a real issue many people in the South feel. On the other hand, the writers try to make this white, Southern boy appealing by overcompensating a civil-war-glorifying town with one family that’s not. And we can cheer for Ethan because his relative ran away from the Southern army? Maybe…
There are several flashbacks to Lena’s past relative where it’s basically implied that her relatives owned slaves. And it’s never really addressed. The writers missed a really great opportunity to talk about that issue and make it a major point of reconciliation for the main characters’ pasts. I mean, sure they say that the war was bad, but they never really get to the main issue of why it was bad.
Lastly the adults in this book are just creepy most of the time. Uncle Macon sneaks into Ethan’s bedroom for *reasons*, and I was just reading thinking, I don’t think this is okay. Of course like most YA, the adults have no control over the teenagers, and the teens tend to do whatever they want. Fine, whatever. But then the adults are also super powerful and threatening and borderline abusive or negligent at times. Ethan’s dad basically lives in his bedroom, leaving Ethan parentless for no reason other than his dad feels closer to their dead mom in his room. Nice!
It’s more just something that makes me sad, rather than a knock against the book itself.
“And what would you know about that? You’ve never been burdened with a relationship in your life, not even a friend. You don’t understand anything. How could you? You sleep in your room all day and mope around in your library all night. You hate everyone, and you think you’re better than everyone. If you’ve never really loved anyone, how could you possibly know how it feels to be me?”
Someone screamed the quote above. And because I was mostly checked out at this point, I thought Uncle Macon was yelling this at Lena. But no. It was Lena yelling at Macon. And I was like, Girl. You literally are doing the exact same thing. You need to chill. I was about to cheer that Macon had put her in her place for once, but sadly I just had to listen to this whiny girl complain about her sad birthday to a guy who’s protected her throughout her ENTIRE life.
Lena is the traditional emo, bookish girl who is strongly contrasted against the Southern Bells of their high school. She has a necklace of sentimental knickknacks, she writes angsty poetry on her arms and bedroom walls… But the thing is, unlike real people who have more to their characters than appearance, Lena doesn’t. Her character relies on the images she projects of herself, and the projection is unoriginal and not interesting.
But Ethan is also not like other girls even though he makes the statement, “It was that she made me realize how much I was just like the rest of them, even if I wanted to pretend I wasn’t.” Despite his own view of himself, he separates himself from the herd so he can be with his girl Lena. He never really acts like the other guys, so I’m not sure where he’s even getting this idea from. But he’s also a bland character without any clear flaws.
So I guess this book goes out to all the teens who just don’t feel like they belong. A good concept in theory if it wasn’t so dang boring.
I love reading YA Fantasy books, but I found this book to be so dry. Firstly, Ethan and Lena are together for a majority of the book and only have one or two fights throughout 500+ pages. Their fights come out of nowhere and mostly result from Lena freaking out again about her impending curse-related doom. And they resolve almost instantly.
That means that a majority of the conflict comes from outside forces. People in the town are annoying and basically avoidable as the two main love interests basically hide away from them for the entire book. Lena is being pursued by a Dark Caster, but this threat is also not substantial and irrelevant for most of the book.
For a book about building a relationship, there’s not much to the relationship anyways. Ethan gives up his entire life to pursue Lena, including quitting the basketball team and hanging out with his best friend Link. Although, he quits in part because his team literally acts like five-year-olds whose toy got stolen away from them when Ethan starts dating Lena. Ethan and Lena’s attraction is physical-based, their conversations are boring, and I really just don’t care about either of them. There’s no chemistry, no romantic tension. It’s just like a dependent first relationship, and I’m just not about that life.
Even the magical aspect, which should be one of the most dangerous and interesting parts, was rushed and side-lined by the lifeless relationship. Lena gains control over her powers in a matter of a few months without much explanation. The source and resources used for magic are flimsily explained. And the curse that haunts their family seems to be as unstable as a Greek prophecy, and not in the exciting adventure kind of way. There’s just not much substance or foundation for the world to stand on.
“Mortals, I envy you. You think you can change things. Stop the universe. Undo what was done long before you came along. You are such beautiful creatures.”
I think that quote about sums up the book. The “beautiful creatures” aren’t even the supernatural ones, but the humans. And yet every human in this book is either hyperbolized or plain potatoes. And yet I can’t help but wonder, do these books get any better?
Have you read this series? What are your thoughts? I really am curious if you liked it whenever you read it.