Tonawanda News

February 11, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Love is in the air for magical teenage series

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Magical, supernatural, fantasy. That stuff’s all the rage with teenagers. I would add in “these days,” but let’s face it, teens — or young adults, as the booksellers and publishers call them — have liked this stuff for a while.

I remember wasting away entire weekends on the latest Anne Rice vampire or witch novel as a teenager in the ‘90s, and I’m pretty sure an awful lot of sci-fi and fantasy stuff was really gaining speed with the kids in the 1970s and ‘80s back when “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” were really hitting their stride.

People of all ages and sorts — but perhaps even more the youngsters trying to come to terms with adulthood, first loves and conflict — love a good book to take them out of their own mind, their own galaxy or even out of their hometown.

Ethan Wate is one of those teens who wanted out of his small hometown in Georgia. Badly.

That is, until a mysterious new girl shows up in town: Lena Duchannes, the witch, or caster as her kind like to call themselves.

Already the book “Beautiful Creatures,” co-authored by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is something of a mix of “Twilight” meets “Harry Potter,” in terms of premise. And that’s about where it sits in terms of its worth as well.

The setup is a bit of a reverse of the Twilight series. It’s told from the perspective of the male half of the romantic relationship and it’s the new-to-town female character who has all the supernatural abilities. And then there’s conflict. Lots of it. (And one would think with so much conflict, the plot wouldn’t turn out to be as flat as it is).

In the magical world, casters must choose to either be dark (evil) or light (good) by their 16th birthday. Unfortunately for Lena, a curse has been placed on her family such that the female casters do not get to choose, but are instead claimed for either side.

Lena doesn’t want to “go dark,” but feels there’s a chance she might be headed in that direction after a serious of mishaps puts small-minded schoolmates and townsfolk in danger. And of course going dark would put a bit of a strain on her budding romance with good-guy — and mortal — Ethan. 

Although there are another three Beautiful Creatures books after this first one, I was left feeling like there should have been more to the series’ first offering. I listened to it as an audiobook, so I really had no idea where I stood in terms of just how much of the story was left until the audio file pretty abruptly moved into acknowledgements mode. 

Wait, that’s it?

Lena never becomes anything more interesting than a dull, mopey teenager. Heck, that describes most teenagers, but, come on, she’s a witch and the main character of a book ... let’s spice things up, ladies. Ethan is slightly more compelling, but ultimately powerless (and not just because he’s not magical) and horribly love sick.  

And the small town of Gatlin seems to have come straight out of “Gone With the Wind.” I’m not sure Garcia and Stohl could have gotten much more stereotypical about small southern towns and their people.

“Beautiful Creatures” lacks the complexity of plot and character development found in the Harry Potter series that makes them so appealing to readers of all ages. This series, heavy on the romance — like the Twilight books — will probably mostly appeal to love-sick teens and pre-teens. 

Which makes the casting of two Oscar winners, Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons; Oscar-nominated Viola Davis and Alice Englert, the daughter of art-house film director Jane Campion, a bit puzzling. Perhaps the film will bring something to the table that was missing from its original source material.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.

• WHAT: "Beautiful Creatures" • BY: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl • GRADE: C+

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.