August 13, 2010

Beautiful Creatures: Review

Ethan Wate's used to living in still, slow-moving, boring Gatlin - in fact, he can't wait until he graduates and leaves it behind him forever. Everything changes when Lena Duchannes arrives, and Ethan's drawn to her in a way he's never experienced before. But Lena's got powers he's never encountered, and she's counting down the days until her sixteenth birthday, when she will be claimed as either Light or Dark forever. She doesn't want to risk Ethan getting hurt, but he is determined that nothing will keep him apart from her - and he might just have some unusual talents of his own...

All right, so right off the bat I just have to say: I had some major issues with Beautiful Creatures. It was a struggle for me to get through the first 3/4 of it, at which point the plot picked up a little bit and I became slightly more invested in the outcome. I'd seen lots of reviews raving about this novel so frankly I was expecting something more than I got out of it. Anyway, it's going to be a long review, so pull up your chairs and get comfortable. Also - this whole review will be chock-full of SPOILERS, so you have been warned!

To start out on a positive note, what I liked about it:
  • Ethan's voice and personality. He generally came across as a smart, kind guy who wasn't a shallow jerk like a lot of the other guys in his high school. I liked seeing the strong connection he had with his mom and how much he missed her, and he was very sweet and chivalrous in always trying to protect Lena from all the insults she received. And he had a bit of a sarcastic sense of humour at times (I would have liked to see even more of it!) that helped to lighten the mood.
  • The setting of the deep South and its history. I haven't seen this setting very often in a paranormal/fantasy novel, and the authors by and large did a good job of getting across what it felt like to live in Gatlin, the type of people that often occupy a town like that, and the history associated with the Civil War that still permeates the attitudes of its residents. The language spoken by a lot of the older residents was definitely evocative of a deep South setting, without being cheesy.
  • Some of the characters on the sidelines. Amma was a spunky character who didn't take nonsense from anyone, least of all Ethan; his great-aunts were quirky personalities who totally radiated the old-fashioned ideas of people from another era, but managed to be lovable all the same; "Aunt Marian" had some excellent quotes that she always pulled out for just the right moment, and it was nice to see her sometimes acting as a surrogate mother for Ethan; Link was admittedly not the brightest bulb and rather shallow, but he was very loyal to Ethan and Lena in the face of everyone who hated them.
  • Macon Ravenwood. He was a really intriguing character, cloaked in mystery and gifted with extraordinary powers. Half of the time you trusted him and the other half you didn't, but he always radiated an aura of command and control. I didn't like how much he'd concealed from Lena and Ethan, but he makes the ultimate sacrifice for his niece which shows just how much he truly cares for her.
  • The different specializations of magic. It was neat to read about all the types of powers, many of which don't pop up that often in YA paranormal/fantasy books (eg. Palimpsest).
  • The last few chapters. This was where everything was pulled together and some things finally made sense when the mysteries were revealed; also, there were some tricks and turns that I definitely did not see coming. Namely (*major spoilers here*): that Sarafine had been using Mrs. Lincoln's body for months now to try to make contact with Lena, and that Macon would die. The ending also sets up well for a sequel, with Lena appearing somewhere between Light and Dark (although as her Claiming has only been postponed a year it does feel a bit like a cop-out).
 All for what I didn't like.
  • Lena as a character. I'm sorry, but I didn't. Perhaps it was because it was written from Ethan's perspective, but I never felt like I really got to know Lena as a person. What I did see of her, I didn't like. She was usually moping about how worried she was that she was going to "turn Dark" on her birthday, and while I sympathized at first, eventually I got sick of it. She couldn't seem to talk about anything else. Also, she was really moody, so one minute she'd be all depressed, then Ethan would manage to cheer her up, and then in the blink of an eye she would start distancing herself from him again. I don't know why it never annoyed him because it sure annoyed me. It always felt like she was holding out on Ethan (and on the reader) and that what we saw of her wasn't authentic. Plus it seemed like whenever Ethan wanted to do something interesting (even if it was a stupid idea, which it sometimes was), her default response was, "No, Ethan, don't! We can't!" If I had a dollar everytime she responded like that, I would have had a pile of money by the end of the book (and then she just goes along with whatever he wants to do anyway, so what was the point?) We get a brief passage towards the end of the book from Lena's perspective, which helps round her out just a little, but I would have preferred a lot more in order to understand how she perceived everything.
  • Ethan and Lena's relationship. I'm having difficulty articulating exactly what it was about their relationship that didn't work for me. I think it's partly that it developed so suddenly, based on this "connection" that they had from the very beginning, and partly that we see it all from Ethan's perspective so it appears rather one-sided. He's clearly fallen hard for her, but we don't get the same vibe from Lena - sometimes she seems into him, sometimes not. She has a terrible time admitting that she cares for him, but we aren't really shown why this is; we don't see what she thinks or feels about him until towards the end. Also, the speaking-mind-to-mind thing did not work for me. Not only could she sometimes (but not always) hear his thoughts, but she would interrupt and reply! Once again, I don't know why Ethan put up with that...poor guy had no privacy. Also, Ethan thinks about Lena so much that we don't discover that much about him as an individual - his likes, dislikes, passions, hobbies, goals, etc. As I liked Ethan's personality I would have enjoyed seeing more of him as separate from his relationship with Lena.
  • Ethan's inconsistent reactions and convenient denial. Most of Ethan I liked, however, it really started to get on my nerves the way he kept going back-and-forth on certain issues. Case in point: the odd supernatural occurrences that keep cropping up in his life. Lena starts speaking into his mind, and he keeps flip-flopping between, "There's no such thing as magic!" to "Oh yeah, she's talking to me in my head again. Might as well talk back." I didn't think his initial response to this was realistic - he accepted the magic awfully quickly - but then it annoyed me even more when he kept questioning it, then going along with it, and then questioning it again. Furthermore, sometimes it felt like I had been reading a different storyline than Ethan had been experiencing. At one point he tells Marian that everyone has told them different things about the locket...and I was thinking, What is he talking about? Because both Amma and Macon had basically made it very clear that the locket was bad news and they shouldn't mess with it. So either Ethan was living with some major denial of the situation or I had really read something inaccurately earlier in the story. This kind of denial seemed to happen whenever he found out something that suggested he shouldn't be investigating things that he didn't understand.
  • The paranormal/fantasy aspect. I can't even begin to count how many unexplained magical occurrences the authors threw in there, but they were considerable. It was like they couldn't get enough of any one type of magic and so they decided to keep tossing things in there and hoping they would work. It turns into one gigantic hodgepodge of every fantasy cliche and then some! You've got the mind-speak powers of Ethan and Lena, the locket that shows glimpses of the past of Genevieve Duchannes whenever certain people touch it, the family of both Dark and Light Casters, Macon Ravenwood the Incubus, Lena the Natural that seems to be able to cast every single spell on earth, the song that keeps popping up at untimely moments and scaring Ethan, the nightmares Ethan and Lena share that seem to hint at a very dark future, the ghost of Genevieve that conveniently appears, the messages in the books from Ethan's mother... the list goes on and on! And yet we are expected to believe that with all this magic and all these individuals wielding magic running around Gatlin, that half the town still hasn't noticed? All right, so we are given the explanation that they know something's up and just don't want to know any more...but still. I'm skeptical. If the authors had stuck to just one or two types of magic, I would have bought it, but it seemed to have very little rhyme and reason (beyond the passed-down-for-generations magic of the Casters, which made sense to me). Also, much of the supernatural that we see is never explained! Why does Ethan seem to have some powers? What is up with that song? Why was that locket bespelled? How was his mother sending him messages? How does Macon die? While the climax does resolve some very pressing questions, the reader is still left pondering exactly how everything happened.
  • The writing style. Personally I never identify as well with a first-person male perspective, so that was already against me. I also found the pacing to be off. There were so many clues that it was difficult to keep track of all of the events, and I kept getting confused as to the chronological order of events (and where the characters were right now in the scheme of things). Also, I just didn't feel that it flowed that well until the climax, where there was an actual time constraint and everything got more exciting. Until that point, there was just the long drawn-out threat of Lena's sixteenth birthday looming in the distance, which was mentioned so many times that I began to feel like it was never going to come. The other thing that bothered me was how the past events involving Genevieve were written. Jumping from Ethan's first-person to third-person was a little disruptive. Also, during these excerpts we were given signs of Genevieve's thoughts and emotions - and although I liked seeing that side of her, it was not made clear how much Ethan and Lena were privy to. Did they see Genevieve, Ethan Carter Wate and the fire objectively? Or were they somehow, like the reader, able to understand Genevieve's perspective?  
This combination of issues made it very easy for me to put the book down and difficult for me to pick it up again. Pretty soon I was reading less for 'oooooh what's going to happen?' and more for 'argh, when's it going to end?' Perhaps some of my many questions will be answered in the sequel...but I won't be reading it to find out.

Still, because the last few chapters redeemed it somewhat, I will say: if you can make it 3/4 of the way through the book, then keep reading. Otherwise, it's not really worth your time.

Rating: 2.5 shooting stars.


  1. It may be awful of me to say, but I'm glad I saw this disapproving review. While at Barnes and Noble the other day, I picked this up and planned to buy it. But after reading a good 30-50 pages, I decided against it. Now I feel like I made the right decision.

    Thanks for the detailed review!

  2. I read this one a while back and really loved it. I guess it didnt work out with you but I liked that in your review you listed all the points why you didnt like it and explained your reasoning.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Jenny - Yeah, this book just wasn't for me. But hey, if you enjoyed it, that's the main thing! :)

  4. I read about 200 pages of this and never finished it. I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one who struggled with it.

  5. Wow, your review is so detailed...yet you didn't love it. Which is a great thing - you carefully explained to us why/why not.

    Just wondering...what's your perspective on co-authored books? I haven't read many - just two. One was called "Joe and Cat set the story straight", which I loved, and one was called "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist", which was also good, but not my type of book.

    It'd be great if you replied on my blog (sorry to be a bother, but it's just that somehow I never get notifications that someone has commented back, and I would love to see what your reply is.)

    Hoping you are well,
    ●▬▬▬๑۩Tina @ Book Couture۩๑▬▬▬▬●

  6. This has also been on my reading pile for a while too. I still want to read it, but I probably won't get to it for a while. I like your reviews, they are really detailed.

  7. I enjoyed it for all of the reasons you said you did, but I didn't really have any issues with it. Thanks for the honest review though!

    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  8. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed your review especially because of the details. It was really hard to to finish it took about a month of procrastinating. Looking forward to read more of your reviews!


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