For the sake of variety I picked up the Audible version of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I sort of didn’t dislike the film, so I was surprised by how much I am enjoying the audio book.
I’m not an unreserved fan of the mythology or the romance. Let me get my objections out of the way first.
Everything Supernatural Is Real Except Jesus. (Next point…)
I dislike random and incoherent magic systems. This has to be one of the sloppiest “magic works this way… because shut up, that’s why” sort of magic systems I have stomached in a long time. Harry Potter‘s was worse, but not by much. It isn’t that powers work differently so far in the first book, as it is that there’s no reason or rhyme behind why magic works the way it does, or doesn’t work the way that it does. Not everyone can be Jim Butcher or Patrick Rothfuss, but for the love of lizards… at least make some effort!
I’m going to be blunt for emphasis. Girls should not write guy POV characters as the primary voice for chick lit. I am not a fan of military sci-fi authors (cough David Weber cough) who write men with boobs and pretend they’re doing something groundbreaking by writing women. Garcia and Stohl write Ethan as a girl without boobs. He’s a sixteen-year-old boy who by the middle of the first book has a girl reading his mind, sitting in his lap, and frequently spending the late hours of many nights around her. She’s the love of his life and the theoretical “boy”‘s man-parts never become involved in his thinking at all. In writing terms, this goes to characterization and verisimilitude. Unless you have a very good reason to explain why your 10-year-old boy character isn’t into comic books, puppies, sports, and climbing trees, you have a problem called “that’s not really a normal/believable 10-year-old”. This is, in fact, one of the requirements of a good story that the ancient Greeks were griping about two thousand years ago and the rules Have Not Changed. Folks, anyone who posits that dating and romance for a 16-year-old-boy is not at least 50% groin-related is lying, obtuse, or a space alien from a planet of androgynous vegetable beings. If you aren’t comfortable saying, much less dealing with, the concept of an erection you need to write the supernatural romance from the girl’s POV.
But Ethan isn’t worried about her noticing his biological reactions, or even noticing that he has any. He is worried about what name he should use for their relationship… that’s what’s going through his head when they have long extended kisses. In other words; Ethan is secretly a woman. I can handle a lesbian romance, if I must, but I still can’t believe that Ethan is biologically male.
With those two gripes out of the way, I have fallen in love with the story of Gatlin County. Beautiful Creatures combines a comfortable fondness for Southern life and small-town living with colorful characters that somehow manage to be delightfully wacky and frighteningly believable. Three spinster great-aunts who live together? Make it two instead of three and I don’t just believe it, I’m related to it. But the foibles and dynamics of Gatlin are not presented with the condescension of a Yankee or the scorn of Faulkner who held his own society in undisguised contempt. These authors are not blind to the pitfalls of the small-town South, but they love it warts and all and present that love in the scenes. That goes a long way towards saving the story.
The characters are generally likable. I think The Lost Generation started the trend of “literature” where every character is some form of disagreeable person or other, at least I blame Hemingway for it. People have been trying to recreate the miserable company of The Sun Also Rises ever since. Not true here. From a saucy family housekeeper, a not-vampire-honest of a crazy recluse uncle, to the best-friend-forever, there are any number of memorable, enjoyable, and often hilarious characters. The characters also generally like one another! It is a delight to see friendship, loyalty, happiness, and fellowship presented without apology.
Throw in a halfway-decent plot with a lot of event (it doesn’t have to be overly original), and you have a novel at least worth a once-through.
The tone and spirit of Beautiful Creatures far outweigh its deficiencies.