Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Spotlight: Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, Book 1) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Good evening, Beardies!

As a librarian, I know there’s a hard and fast honor code when it comes to movie adaptations of books: Read it before you see it. Tonight’s Spotlight book, Beautiful Creatures, came out in the heyday of young adult paranormal romance. At the time, I was heartily sick of paranormal love stories and let this book pass me by without even a second thought. When the movie came out though, I became honor-bound to read it—especially when my friends gave me a copy for my birthday and made me promise to read it so we could go see the movie together.



The Premise: 
Nothing has changed in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina, since the Civil War. At least, that’s how Ethan Wate sees it. The DAR runs both the town and the local gossip mill. Ethan’s life is far from easy—his mom was killed in an accident, and since then, his dad has been holed up in his study, leaving Ethan to fend for himself under the watchful eye of their housekeeper, Amma. As summer break winds down, Ethan’s sleep is constantly troubled by dreams of a mysterious girl whom he cannot save from a terrible fate. On the first day of school, he is stunned to find that the girl from his dreams is his new classmate, Lena Duchannes, niece of the town hermit. Gatlin doesn’t take kindly to newcomers, though, and as the bullies and the DAR attempt to run Lena out of town, Ethan falls for her. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Lena is a Caster, a witch whose powers will be Claimed for either Light or Dark on her sixteenth birthday. Most Casters can Claim themselves as they choose, but due to a family curse, Lena has no choice in the matter. As her birthday approaches, Ethan and Lena must join forces to find a way to break the curse.


Watch the Beautiful Creatures Trailer


Gems for Writers:
Setting. Authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl develop their setting so well that I checked an atlas to find the exact location of Gatlin, South Carolina, and nearly cried with disappointment when I learned that it does not exist. I grew up in a small town that seemed permanently stuck in the past, and Garcia and Stohl captured that feeling with pinpoint accuracy. In Gatlin, as in my hometown, everyone knows everyone else and anyone who violates the unwritten social codes is instantly branded a pariah. With the uttermost finesse, the authors actually manage to use the setting to drive the plot. Lena’s struggles to fit in at her new school as well as control her rapidly-increasing powers create a classic protagonist vs. society conflict and make the plot that much more complex.

Gothic Atmosphere. An old town steeped in tradition and history is the perfect setting for Gothic story, but a good Gothic story needs a deft hand (or in this case, two deft hands) to prevent it from becoming a cliché. Beautiful Creatures totally delivers in the atmosphere department, and authors Garcia and Stohl use all kinds of tools to develop that atmosphere: Old houses, forbidden romances, a midnight stroll in a Civil War era graveyard, even a secret underground library. The atmosphere in this book is as palpable as that in any of the Gothic classics, and made me want to grab a blanket and a cup of something warm to drink, and let the creepy mood settle over me.

Characterization. Sadly, many paranormal romances suffer from spineless heroines. Not so with Beautiful Creatures! Lena is a refreshingly strong heroine and never shows signs of being a damsel in distress. All of the characters in this story are well drawn and fully realized. My favorite is Marian, the town librarian and research partner of Ethan’s deceased mother. Marian pulls double duty as keeper of the secret Caster library. In a town filled with ignorance and fear, she wields knowledge as a weapon, championing Lena’s right to attend school when the DAR mounts a campaign to have her expelled. Though Lena’s uncle wants her to stay away from Ethan and passively accept whatever fate awaits her on her birthday, Marian feels duty-bound to help Ethan and Lena search the Caster archives for a way to break the curse, even if it means losing her standing in the Caster community. This is not only fantastic characterization in a literary sense; it is also an honest portrayal of every great librarian I have ever known.

Rules and Types of Magic. Beautiful Creatures is quite unique in that it portrays two different types of magic. In addition to Caster magic and the rules of Claiming powers for Light or Dark, Garcia and Stohl also incorporate voodoo into their tale. The Wate family housekeeper, Amma, is a voodoo priestess who constantly makes talismans for Ethan, insisting that he carry them, leaving them in his room, and even sneaking one into the corsage he gives Lena for a school dance. Amma is also fully aware of the limitations and etiquette of voodoo, such as calling on the spirits of her ancestors with offerings of their favorite foods and admonishing others to treat “the Greats” with the utmost respect. Amma’s power with voodoo is revered in the Caster community, so the two types of magic play off each other like ripples in a pond, adding depth to the story.

Rating:

Conclusion:
Far from being just another Twilight knock-off, Beautiful Creatures has many features that make it stand out in the crowded genre of young adult paranormal fiction. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

Happy Reading and Happy Scribing!




**Beautiful Creatures (2009), by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is published by and copyright Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It is available in stores, online, and from your local public library.

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