Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is the first book of a supernatural/fantasy/romance series along the lines of Twilight and The Shiver Trilogy. Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate lives in the small southern town of Gatlin, South Carolina, where nothing ever changes, and no one ever leaves. He feels as if he’s set apart from the rest of the town; both of his parents are professors who have made sure he didn’t adopt the same Southern drawl as the rest of his friends by creating, instead of a swear jar, a jar Ethan had to fill with money every time he dropped the “g” off the end of a word. His mother, an expert in the history of the Southern United States, has just recently been killed in a car accident, and Ethan’s author father has grown even more reclusive than ever, sleeping all day and writing all night. Ethan feels alone, isolated, and fearful that he will be stuck in an unchanging routine in an unchanging town.
But when Lena Duchannes (her last name rhymes with “rain”) comes to town, Ethan sees the potential for things to be different. She is the niece of another recluse in the town of Gatlin, Macon Ravenwood, who owns a large estate across town. Garcia and Stohl frequently reference classic and canonical books, especially because both Ethan and Lena are extremely well read. Ethan compares Macon to Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird, connecting the secluded and isolated Macon to the well-known character. But Macon isn’t just a reclusive, ignored by the town; he is regarded as a subject of fear, trepidation, and anxiety, and the fact that Lena is living with him instantly turns the town against her when she starts to attend high school.
Yet, Lena doesn’t just arrive in Gatlin. She has been appearing in Ethan’s dreams for several weeks, and his recognition of Lena in real life becomes a sign of the potential for change and meaning.
But, like the protagonists of so many supernatural romances, Lena isn’t just as she appears, and Ethan, it seems, might not be so normal either. Lena is a Caster from a very large family of Casters, who have the ability to affect the elements through magic. She writes numbers on the back of her hand, counting down the days until her sixteenth birthday, when she will choose whether she is “Dark” or “Light,” which essentially boils down to whether she will use her powers for good or for evil.
Beautiful Creatures is not so structurally simplistic as Twilight, however, even if the love story between Ethan and Lena at times seems remarkably similar. The Southern US setting opens up a historical connection, allowing for numerous flashbacks to the Civil War that examine Lena’s own family history as well as the history of the United States. The residents of Gatlin hold a Civil War Reenactment every year, and this, mixed with detailed flashbacks to the 1800s and Sherman’s March, makes history interesting and accessible. The way Garcia and Stohl allow their characters to interact with both literature and history provides additional layers of story that run beneath their own, original fantasy.
This first book is part of a four-book series – Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and the just-published Beautiful Redemption. This is another fantasy series that provides an involved, otherworld that is placed just over top of our own, providing enough story to create an interesting story with a lot to hold on to. The movie adaptation will be out in February and the trailer looks great.