Beautiful Creatures: Caster Chronicles, #1, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
In less than three years, Ethan Wate will finally be able to turn his back on Gatlin County and never, ever look back. Traditionally, it's a place that no one leaves, but that, for him, is one tradition too many.
In addition to his generic ready-to-leave-the-nest angst, he's got a two other big problems, and neither of them are the kind that he can complain about to his friends (or pseudo-friends, as he's not very impressed with most of his peers):
First, Ethan's father hasn't left the house since Ethan's mother's sudden death, and
Second, Ethan's been having terrifying—and terrifyingly real (so real that he wakes up soaking wet and covered in mud)—dreams about trying to save a mysterious (and gorgeous, of course) girl.
Enter Lena Duchannes. No one new EVER moves to Gatlin County, but Lena does. Girls in Gatlin County don't wear Converse sneakers and black nail polish, but Lena does. No one ever goes out to Ravenwood, home to Gatlin County's very-own Boo Radley (in, it turns out, more ways than one), but Lena does—she LIVES with him.
And, of course, the moment that Ethan Wate lays eyes on her, he recognizes her as the girl from his dreams. Beautiful Creatures is a Southern Gothic romance. It's got magic and danger, a curse and star-crossed love, history and small-town small-mindedness, secrets and awakenings, a hidden library and a librarian named Marian.
Kudos to Garcia & Stohl for writing a paranormal romance narrated by a male character. That was an especially nice change of pace. Granted, Ethan Wate is, like, the personification of Every Good Trait you could imagine in a boyfriend—he even enjoys taking his elderly aunts to church every weekend—but he's a Good Egg and doesn't get all stalker-y like a certain other paranormal hero who will remain nameless. I enjoyed his voice enough that I was able to set aside most of my disbelief, though his ease at defying almost all of his peers and most of the adults in his life bordered on the superhuman.
I liked that the book had all of the requisite elements of a Southern Gothic: the decaying mansion, the voodoo practitioner, the tragedy in the past. I liked that the different forms of magic—the voodoo (it was never explicitly called that, but it involved calling on one's ancestors, so I made the leap) and the magic of the Caster folk—were evenly matched in terms of power and importance, and that each had respect for the other. I liked getting to know Lena's odd family (which, of course, reminded me a bit of Bradbury's stories about the Elliott family), I liked that there was a clear effort on the part of the authors to keep the struggle between the magic users from being just a simple matter of Good vs. Bad, and I enjoyed exploring Ravenwood.
I did feel that the book dragged in the middle, could have been tightened up by at least one hundred pages, and that most of the secondary characters were caricatures at best. I spotted the Shocking Betrayal a mile away, and there were moments that the book felt more like a movie/television pitch than a novel. By the last third of the book, Ethan and Lena had started to resemble a gender-reversal of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen (Lena even incessantly moans about being too dangerous for Ethan) to such an alarming (well, alarming for me) degree—and with protective lurrrve even taking a role—that I lost all emotional attachment to them and just finished the book because I was curious about where the plot would go.
It's very definitely one that will go over well with fans of Twilight, Cassie Clare, and Kirsten Miller's recent The Eternal Ones, and though I've got my own personal reservations, I do wish that I had a stack of copies that I could hand out to my many patrons who've been wanting something Twilight-y lately*.
*Maybe it's because Fall makes us Mainers feel all nest-y and desirous of comfortable things? I dunno.