Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl (4.8 Stars)

Lemons and rosemary.

The Book

It’s your typical new kid at school and the supernatural starts happening. Well, almost.
The story is narrated by Ethan L. Wate. He is popular, a member of the basketball team, used to date the second-hottest girl in school, and he is definitely considered a part of the community in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan, however, is not so sure about belonging there.

There are only two kinds of people in our town. The stupid and the stuck.

Ethan can’t wait for his ticket out to a college at least a thousand miles away. Until a new girl arrives. Lena Duchannes is the niece of the town shut-in, who is said to be consorting with the devil by the overly faithful citizens of Gatlin. And another thing: Ethan has been dreaming about her ever since his mother’s death.

Their inevitable romance has to face small-town prejudice, problematic two-species-interrelation, and a family curse that will hit Lena on her sixteenth birthday.

Why I Read The Book

Yes, I admit it, I saw the movie first. I didn’t particularly like it, from the perspective of actors and directing, but the general idea spoke to me. Of course, I knew not to expect the book to be the same, but I was curious about the worded romance of Ethan and Lena and the world of the Casters – because I can’t claim that I understood much of that magical world in the film. It was practically inevitable for me to read the novel and really discover the Casters.

The Idea

Casters. Though I have read a few magical young adult novels by now, I am awed by how different they can be, nonetheless. Of course, every supernatural young adult novel is in a way the same as the next one, but I can appreciate the smaller differences. I don’t need every novel to be completely different from the one before. Knowing the approach of the genre is comfortable and easy, just what I like on a stormy autumn day.

Casters are magical beings whose fate is decided upon their sixteenth birthday. Either they Turn Light or Dark. In the case of the Duchannes-family, this is not a choice the individual is allowed to make, as it is with other Caster families, but the choice is made for them at midnight concluding the day of their sixteenth birthday, their “sixteenth moon”. This book is about Lena’s journey towards her birthday, from the perspective of a Mortal small-town boy, who falls in love with her – and appears to have some kind of power or fate of his own.

May I just say? Boy’s point of view!

Characters

Ethan Wate is the narrator of this novel. He appears to be older than his actual 16, which may be because of the recent loss of his mother and the ensuing mental decline of his father, or because he was the child of two professors. He is very observant, book-smart, and sensitive – I mean that in the best way. While he takes part in his life like he is the most normal person in the world, he is also bored by his life. That changes, when Lena arrives in town. He is immediately drawn to her “worldiness”. Until he has the chance to leave himself, Lena is his ticket to experience the world that happens outside of Gatlin County. The best thing about him, and which separates him from the other people in town, is his openness, his lack of prejudice against the unknown, his curiosity, and, more than everything, the bravery with which he faces the challenges, magical and otherwise, that come with knowing Lena.

Lena Duchannes (“ducane”) comes from the magical line of Duchannes and Ravenwood, the oldest families in Gatlin. She is used to being an outcast wherever she goes, being judged by mortals, but at the same time she wishes nothing more than to experience the same things that any other girl does in High School. It is a challenge for her to understand why Ethan would even talk to her – even more so, because she has been dreaming about him too, which she doesn’t understand even though she is part of the magical world. Capturing Lena’s true character is very difficult, since she is very erratic due to the Damocles sword over her head. (I think) She hopes to become a Light Caster after her sixteenth birthday, but there are times when she worries about the amount of Darkness in her.

Wesley Jefferson “Link” Lincoln is Ethan’s best friend. He is the most neutral character in the novel, being part of the small-town gossip, but also supportive of Ethan’s relationship with Lena, no questions asked. He is the kind of friend everyone should have.

Amarie “Amma” Treadeau is the Wates’ housekeeper who dabbles in voodoo. Her family has always been in Gatlin as well. She is a Seer, which means she actually can read Tarot cards, and she can also commune with the Spirits of her ancestors. She is fiercely protective of Ethan, whom she loves as a son, and wants to keep him away from the Duchannes/Ravenwoods, even though it is a lost battle. In the end, she is a person you want to have on your side.

Macon Ravenwood is Lena’s uncle. Even though everybody in Gatlin knows about him, no one knows him or has ever seen him. He is a mysterious figure that Ethan speculates a lot about until he finally meets him. Macon is difficult to make out. Is he good? Is he bad? You never understand his motives for doing something, but at the same time is becomes clear that he will always act in a way which he deems to be that which brings the best protection to his niece.

Realization and Writing Style

I wasn’t very far into the book when one thing became very, very clear. I would swallow this book in lightning speed, because there was just no way I would be able to stop reading. The writing style of this book is beyond comparison. It’s easy and comfortable, but so full and rich and colourful in its creation of settings and events and stories and characters that not even the longest inner monologue got boring – and I usually want to skip too long paragraphs about things that don’t seem necessary to the main plot. Here, I can’t get enough of them, and from page 50 I was sure, that just over 500 pages just couldn’t be enough of that book. Bless the sequels!

While I did like the detail and every piece of additional character information, I am a little torn to whether it was the best choice to write this story from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old boy. Even though there are plenty of comprehensible reasons given as to why he acts so adult as well as reasons as to why and how his mind works the way it does, I just can’t help thinking that most things described are a bit beyond a teenaged boy. From the perspective of an all-knowing narrator, this would have been perfection.

Emily turned to Lena and expertly shot her a look that managed to work its way from the very top of Lena’s un-highlighted hair, past her un-tanned face, down to the tips of her un-pinked fingernails.

I really liked the development of the romance between Ethan and Lena. Even though it was obvious they were meant to be together even before they met face-to-face, they were so awkward and shy, and at the same time so natural together, it was just a pleasure to witness. Even with their psychic link, they didn’t take themselves for granted, and never assumed that it was inevitable for them to love – even though it was, of course. And even when you thought they finally made it, they still weren’t quite there. I was actually surprised how little the back and forth annoyed me, and how absolutely amusing it was.

-Is that what I am?
-Is that what you want to be?
-Are you asking me something?
-I guess I am.
-You don’t sound so sure.
-I’m sure, L.
-Then I guess I am your girlfriend.

Coming from the movie, I knew some of the things that happened. You can guess my surprise when I was only one-third through the book and most of the events from the film had already happened. Needless to say, the movie cut heavily from the book, and changed quite a few things, and essentially so. One of the things I found a big pleasure in was the extended visions and flashbacks. I came close to thinking about them as two timelines narrated in parallel. I could never wait for the next chapter that went back in time.

Furthermore, the details surrounding not only Ethan’s, but also Lena’s family, are explained in much more detail, make so much more sense, than what I had known from the film. Some of the things finally made sense. And some of the things finally felt like small-town, South Carolina and not like Hollywood.

Which makes me come to another point of vast amusement in the book. The small-town mentalities. The traditions, and the gossip, and the family-awareness, the community, and almost most importantly the superstition. Sometimes, especially since reading it from Ethan’s not so patriotic point of view, I wasn’t sure whether the book aimed to make fun of and recreate the general prejudice against the traditional south, or whether these things really tell of the way a small-town of the southern states works. His little jabs towards the small-town mentalities, however, gave the novel so much real life, that I was close to buying the whole thing as real and not fiction. My favourite characters in this were the Sisters, grandaunts Grace, Mercy and Prudence. Every single one of their lines was epic beyond proportion.

For some reason I cannot really explain but that might possibly have something to do with the fact that I am German, I am always curious about the American Civil War, and from the Southern perspective. The traditional town of Gatlin is, of course, centred around their heritage and role in the war, even though they were on the losing side. The importance is to have an ancestor who fought in the war, and that there was some sort of honour this family member brought from this. There are quite a few things mentioned from the time, and I went online to read up in them, which I always enjoy if a book is doing to me.

Everyone in Gatlin County was related to the wrong side of the War Between the States. We were used to that by now. It was like being born in Germany after World War II, being from Japan after Pearl Harbour, or America after Hiroshima. History was a bitch sometimes.

The thing about dead mothers is that they are always essential to the greater plotline. Dead mothers always mean that they were involved in the events before the book even got started. So, this wasn’t a surprise here. But the way Ethan speaks of his mother, the way he gives her opinion, I can only hope that this wasn’t the last we “saw” of her!

I don’t think I can even begin to understand the world of the Casters. Obviously, with the hint of the clientele of the Caster library, there are many more creatures out there that are neither human nor Caster. Macon, for example. At the same time, I was constantly surprised at how little this magical world actually was a secret to the human world. There are so many people involved. From people like Marian, to Amma’s family’s heritage, to the postman who obviously is in the know but doesn’t seem to have a bigger role than acting as Amma’s chauffeur. I suppose I had expected the magical side to be in hiding from the humans and that it was some kind of law not to tell and for no one else to know. Then again, the way this small-town is portrayed, it’s just impossible to keep a secret like that.

This was a wonderfully well-paced novel – maybe only until the events of December. January was skipped through a bit too much, and I cannot believe that nothing happened. The climax of the story was great and unexpected and thrilling, though I don’t pretend I totally understood all that was happening on the magical side. And then it was over far too soon, I would have liked a bigger conclusion that really worked through the aftermath.

After Reading

Awesome! The end came too quickly, I would have liked at least one more day! But that’s what the next book is for, right? Can’t wait to get started with that one!

More Quotes

“I know you wouldn’t be here, if you didn’t have a reason, and I suspect Macon Ravenwood’s niece is, of nothing else, a reason. So why don’t we all go into the back room, make a pot of tea, and try to be reasonable?”

I had no more control over my fate than she did. Maybe none of us did.

If you could imagine the color of anger, it had been splashed over every wall. Rage, or something equally dense and seething, was hanging from every chandelier, resentment woven into thick carpets padding the room, hatred flickering underneath every lampshade.

Rating

Idea: 5 Stars
Characters: 5 Stars
Realization: 5 Stars
Writing Style: 5 Stars
General Rating: 4 Stars
Personal Rating: 5 Stars

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