Review: BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

 

If you’ve read my review for Beautiful Creatures, the first book in the Caster Chronicles series, you will know that I gobbled up that book like delicious cake. Therefore, when I discovered ARCs of Book #2 at the ALA Annual Conference, I may have squealed with glee and snatched a copy greedily. (Okay, so I did.) Afterward, I lovingly squirreled away the book as a special treat for when I finished my revisions on my own novel. That didn’t last very long.

Beautiful Darkness is 512 pages, a fact that alarms me when I consider that I read the book in two sittings. I couldn’t help myself, though, because the story wormed its way into my imagination even when I was doing mundane activities like eating cereal or watching TV. If you haven’t read Book #1, go read my review for that. If you have read Book #1, then continue reading this review for Book #2.

Beautiful Darkness satisfies my need for:

(1) Twisted magic that draws upon voodoo and curses from the Civil War. Also, twisted magic in the hands of a likely dangerous girl, rather than a ubiquitous brooding guy.

(2) Romance. But not easy-peasy, standard-issue, star-crossed “we must be together every second of our waking existences!” romance, the bittersweet kind that involves people getting pissed and not talking to each other for realistic reasons.

(3) New characters who are just as crazy fun as the last batch. Though I will admit to liking the new L better than the old L. (Shhh! No spoilers.) Just because the new L is fabulous.

(4) More exploration of the South and its patchwork of cultures. For example:”Decorating graves was another one of Gatlin’s contests–a way to prove that you and your family members, even the dead ones, were better than your neighbors and theirs. People went all out. Plastic wreaths wrapped in green nylon vines, shiny rabbits and squirrels, even birdbaths, so hot from the sun they could burn the skin right off your fingers. There was no overdoing it. The tackier, the better.” I adore paranormal fiction well-rooted in reality.

I will stop this review right here, since I don’t want to tread into the realm of spoilers, and believe me, Beautiful Darkness is chock-full of twists that you will just have to discover on your own.

(I got this as an ARC from ALA, if you didn’t see that above.)

Review: BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Sheer buzz compelled me to buy Beautiful Creatures, even though I usually refrain from buying new hardcovers and often shy away from bestsellers, having quirky tastes. This book, however, did not disappoint. Rather, it has cemented in my mind what I now consider one of the unfailing, essential truths of its genre: good fantasy isn’t about the magical, but the mundane.

What do I mean by that? Think about it. When you read fantasy, particularly that set in the modern world, you expect a balance between the normal and the paranormal. But it’s more than that. Too many boring grocery-shopping and tooth-brushing scenes, and the reader chucks the book against the wall. Too many arbitrary rules of magic and weirdly random creatures, and the reader stops caring. The key, I believe, is when the fantastic abstracts and amplifies the ordinary. In a nutshell, fantasy is one big metaphor that allows us to feel our ordinary lives more vividly. Beautiful Creatures demonstrates this brilliantly.

What I love most about this book: not the magic, curses, and creatures, but the way the authors detail the small-town life of Gatlin, South Carolina, right down to the gravy and biscuits Amma cooks, the way everyone in Gatlin talks about the Civil War as if it happened yesterday, and the yearning Ethan feels to escape this Southern tradition and small-mindedness. Amma’s cooking ability is echoed by her ability to cook up voodoo; the Civil War, by ancient conflicts between the magical families of Casters; the small-mindedness, by the way people treat the clearly different, magically gifted girl Lena.

Reading this book is like eating a layer cake. You get a big bite of real Southern life, then a taste of magic that isn’t overwhelmingly strong or sweet. These two flavors perfectly complement each other. Take out the magic, and you would still have a good novel, but perhaps not a great one. Take out the mundane, and the magic wouldn’t have nearly the same resonance. The whole effect is of an expertly crafted metaphor about love overcoming prejudice, and whether your past determines your future. All mixed up in one batch of Southern Gothic.

I won’t go into much of the plot, since it’s a long book and most of the fun comes from discovering all its secrets. I will, however, highly recommend you try a taste of Beautiful Creatures. I found it delicious.