“Beautiful Darkness” illuminates

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

First, a few words… Being well past my teen years and having a daughter who isn’t there yet, *shudder* I really had no interest in the YA – or young adult – literature market. Then I drank that Twilight kool-aid and the rest is history. As a result of my – er – hobby, I’ve been exposed to several other popular books in this genre and recently had the opportunity to read the first half of the “Beautiful” series for my job. Poor me – reading for a living;)

A few years ago the term “YA” would have been lost on me, but I now know it’s the fast growing genre of books geared toward teenagers – or young adults as they prefer to be called. Now this market is populated with titles such as “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” which have blurred the lines of popularity, being read and loved by all ages.
Joining the supernatural YA party last year was the novel “Beautiful Creatures.” It was followed up a few weeks ago by the highly anticipated “Beautiful Darkness.” I read both to see what all the fuss was about and was beautifully enchanted.

The magical universe found in “Creatures” and “Darkness” was conjured by two good friends, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. In the imaginary town of Gatlin, South Carolina, the biggest excitement revolves around Civil War reenactments and pie-baking contests. Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate was biding his time at Jackson High until he could escape after graduation. The new arrival at the beginning of his sophomore year changes everything, including his perspective of the backward little southern town his family had called home for generations.

Lena Duchannes is like nothing Gatlin has ever seen. She’s beautiful and quirky, deeper and more complex than the belles who rule the school. She’s also been haunting Ethan’s dreams before they even meet. Once they do — and inevitably fall in love — he finds out Lena is a Caster, ensconced in a family of other Casters and mythical creatures. The word caster refers to spells, a good euphemism because no one wants to introduce their new girlfriend as a witch.

“Beautiful Creatures” guides the reader on Ethan and Lena’s journey into love, magic and danger as Lena approaches her penultimate sixteenth birthday. It is then that her fate as a Caster is decided – she could go Dark or Light and I don’t mean her hair color. Her fate is inexorably tied to those around her and “Creatures” leaves us with tragedy and more questions as Gatlin’s secrets are slowly revealed.

The sequel opens with Ethan fervently hoping the changes in Lena’s mystical world won’t affect their strong, yet complicated bond, but of course there wouldn’t be a very long book without conflict and more danger.

Ethan’s hometown turns out to be even more cloaked in secrets than he could have imagined. People he’s known all his life have dimensions he must accept no matter how contrary they are to his long held perceptions. Even without the element of magic, this is something that teenagers struggle with every day. It’s always a shock to find out there is a person behind the name Mom or Dad – a person with loves, losses, secrets – a person with history.

The mother lost to Ethan before the series takes place is that person for him, and revelations about her and others in his family rock Ethan’s world as he fights to save Lena from herself.

The “Beautiful” series wins my praise for several reasons, one of the biggest being that it never talks down to its audience. Ethan is smart and so are many of the characters in his world, but there is nothing geeky or awkward about his intelligence. He accepts that there are bigger, better things waiting outside of Gatlin for him without a sense of arrogance.

Also, I was surprised to discover the stories – written by two women – were almost exclusively from Ethan’s perspective. They infused his voice with telltale male references without falling to stereotypes, thus making him believable and immensely likable.

One of the most interesting characters is Gatlin, the town itself. Although both authors now reside in California, there is a love of the south woven through the words of both books. Sometimes it mocks and teases, but with an underlying affection that makes me want to try fried green tomatoes.

“Beautiful Darkness” ties up some loose ends while unraveling many more. Fortunately there are two more books in the series which will publish over the next two years. There are some dark themes and violence in the books that may be too strong for sensitive, younger readers, but none of it is graphic or gratuitous. I recommend it for that coveted YA demographic as well as adults who like a good southern romance without the bodice ripping.

Besides creating a magical place with fascinating people, these books are extremely well written — never talking over or under the reader’s head. Start with “Beautiful Creatures” and you’ll soon want to add some magic to your shelf with “Beautiful Darkness.”

6 thoughts on ““Beautiful Darkness” illuminates

  1. No! Don’t tell me that the Beautiful series is a good read. I don’t want to read YA! I read YA as a young adult and loved it, but then I grew up and was reading A material but stupid flipping twilight had to suck me in and I don’t want to like these books!

    But more to the point, isn’t Ethan’s story what all teenagers want to hear? That things are never what they seem and there really are secrets that you never know about those that surround you. I know I thought about that as a kid and I strangely hope my kids will do the same thing. It makes you question things and keeps your mind and your eyes open to what is new and misunderstood.

    Great recommendation, but I am doing everything in my power to resist the siren call.

    • Thanks for the comment – and don’t worry, I won’t force the kool-aid down your throat. When I first started it I kept seeing/looking for parallels to Twi, but it’s completely different once you get into the southern atmosphere and diverse mythology. Really well written and the next one doesn’t come out until next year so you have time to think about it…. and read plenty of adult lit;)

  2. Nice review! Makes me want to start reading regular books again instead of FF. Actually, I should probably get back to my own writing 🙂

    How in the heck do you have time to read, write reviews (even though I know they are for work), work, write and take care of your daughter?!? Do you ever sleep?

    Good job – I might have to add these to my ‘to-read’ list. I haven’t branched far from the Twi kool-aid in the YA genre, but it might be time.

    • Thanks! It’s not as impressive as it sounds. I’m a night owl but I wish I wrote more and tweeted less. Taking the break from FF to write my own kind of broke the habit and I’m reading a little of it here and there – not all consuming. The ‘Beautiful’ books are more sophisticated than Twi with the southern voice, but not the UST… yet, anyway. There are two books left;)

  3. The TWILIGHT kool-aid I read because my daughter insisted, and it didn’t suck me in it… But BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, I loved after page 80. The beginning drags, it’s necessary, but draggy and could be told a little faster. I haven’t read BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS yet, I have it, but too many in front.

    The Southern references will tick anyone actually from the low country of SC, but it’s easily forgiveable. Personally I think the editor probably jazzed up the sterotype. And I’ve actually been to more than one reenactment.

    Love your review though.

    • Thanks for commenting! My tumble down the Twilight rabbit hole is still a mystery to me – I’m more than old enough to know better – but other than that sparkly universe, I avoid YA. For some reason, the publisher sent my little weekly newspaper an advanced copy of Beautiful Darkness so I quickly read both in order to review. Great stories and characters; I look forward to the new book this fall. Let me know what you think of Darkness when you get to it – it’s different.

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