Monday, July 22, 2013

The Caster Chronicles (2009-2012)

Beautiful Creatures (2009)
Book #1

By: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural Romance, Drama

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate thinks nothing would ever change in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina. That is until Lena Duchannes moves into town, and Ethan’s world is flipped upside down. He finds himself instantly connected to this mysterious beauty, and as the two grow closer, he learns more than he bargained for: about her, about Gatlin, and even his own family. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. I only looked into it after finding out that one of my favorite actors is playing Larkin in the film adaptation. I thought it seemed a little Twilight-ish, and while there are some similarities, I found this book far more enjoyable.

As far as the similarities with Twilight are concerned, it’s a supernatural romance, only this time it’s the new girl in town who has the supernatural abilities, rather than the boy. Like Edward in Twilight, Lena tries to avoid a relationship with Ethan because she fears for his safety. Also like Edward, she is a part of a family where each member has a distinct ability different from the rest. However that’s where the similarities end.

This book isn’t just about the romance between the two leads, it’s also about friendship, bullying, and bigotry. Lena is tortured by the kids at school because she is different and labeled as dangerous by the locals. Ethan loses most of his friends in defending and loving her – making him a strong and endearing character in my eyes. He has a sense of himself and sticks to his beliefs of right and wrong despite what the people around him say and do. I’m glad the authors chose to tell the story from his perspective.

It took a while for Lena to grow on me because she was so closed off. We get to know her as Ethan does, and despite her early reservations we see her fall as much for him as he has for her. Their relationship is sweet and above all else, healthy. Neither one tries to control the other, and they work together to help solve the mysteries surrounding their connection and to keep her safe from what she ultimately fears – being claimed by the darkness.

Link is a true best friend to Ethan, never abandoning him, even when all of his other friends do. He accepts Lena as a friend and aids Ethan in defending her against the bullying students of their high school. Ridley, Lena’s cousin, is lovable despite the fact that she’s dark. She still seems to have feelings, at least for her cousin, despite the fact that once she was claimed by the darkness she wasn’t supposed to feel anything for anyone. She takes matters into her own hands when Lena wont, and her actions against the snotty popular girls are hilarious.

While the writing isn’t phenomenal, it’s decent. There were a few repeated details that weren’t necessary, like constantly telling the reader that Lena has green eyes, black curly hair that twists in a nonexistent wind, and is beautiful. The writers also had a way of making characters seemingly disappear in a scene, such as Larkin at the climax of the novel. There is so much focus on the main villain of the story that Larkin isn’t heard from for at least three pages even though he is also in the scene. I began to wonder where he was for a while. I did, however, like the homages to To Kill a Mockingbird and Carrie, both modern classics in my opinion.

The story was cute and a fun read. The characters all have distinct personalities and, if I didn’t love them right away, they grew on me as the story progressed – with the exception of the bullies and bigots in town, of course. Despite my reservations about reading this book, I enjoyed it, and am looking forward to getting my hands on the next entry in the series.


Beautiful Darkness (2010)
Book #2

By: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural Romance, Drama

Ethan thought everything would get back to normal after Lena’s sixteenth birthday, but all is not well in Gatlin. Lena is grieving over the loss of a loved one and has begun pushing Ethan away from her, getting dangerously close to turning Dark. When she runs off with Ridley and an incubus/caster hybrid named John, Ethan decides to go after her. She’s in danger, he can feel it, and it is up to him to save her, whether she wants to be saved or not.

I didn’t like this book as well as the first, mostly because of Lena. She was so mean to Ethan, a sweet, loving boy, utterly devoted to her, for most of the novel. She is nice to him one day, mean the next, she leaves him in the dust as she rides off on the back of John’s motorcycle, but throws a psychotic fit when he is tempted by the new girl in town, Liv. So it’s okay for her to dump him and run off with a strange guy, but he can’t be friends with Liv without her freaking out? The parts of the book that didn’t involve Lena, aside from the climax and everything following it, were the best scenes in the story.

I was a little irritated that Ethan was so strung out over Lena too. A lot of guys would have said, “Screw you, if you’re going to treat me like that!” He did feel that way at first, but he still wanted to try and save her, regardless of whether she was even still capable of loving him anymore. Lena was being so awful, I really wanted him to end up with Liv, who seems like a genuinely awesome character and who likes Ethan for who he is. I love Liv, and I hope she plays a big role in the following books of the series. Link is, as always, the loyal, goofy best friend, willing to do anything for Ethan, and still hoping he can find the good side of Ridley. Ridley, herself, goes through a bit of a transformation in this installment, so the future books of the series should be quite interesting.

I really liked that this book explored the underground Caster tunnels and revealed many secrets about Ethan’s family as well as Macon Ravenwood. The tunnels seem endless and you can make great time using them to get around, as time passes differently in the tunnels than the mortal realm. I found this exploration fun, and liked the events that happen along the way. Plenty of juicy secrets come to light and transitions made, lives forever changed with one journey.

The climactic scene could have been a little better. I was expecting quite a fight, but it was pretty uneventful. Also, Liv seems to disappear once the climax begins, because the authors no longer mention her, though I assume she was there the entire time. I know this is the story of Ethan and Lena’s romance, but don’t let your secondary characters fade away, especially one as sweet and fun as Liv. We get a brief mention of her current activities toward the end of the novel, so we can assume she made it through the fight okay, but otherwise, no Liv.

I don’t really understand why Larkin is even in this book. He is used so little, I don’t see his role necessary to the plot. He’s a powerful illusionist and very underused considering what he is capable of. I hope this isn’t his last hurrah. If so, his character has been cheated. Also, I wanted to see a bit more of Ethan’s relationship with his father and see how that is mending. Still, the end also left quite the cliffhanger, so I’ll be getting my hands on the next installment to find out what happens.

Overall, it’s decent, but not as good as the first entry due to aforementioned reasons. I hope these things are cleared up in the next two books in the series.


Beautiful Chaos (2011)
Book #3

By: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural Romance, Drama

Nothing in Gatlin has been the same since the events of the Seventeenth Moon. Lena Duchannes made a decision that changed the order of both the mortal and caster worlds and knocked everything off balance. Now the town is experiencing intense heat waves, insect infestation, and the evaporation of major water sources. It appears an apocalypse is near, and it is up to Ethan and Lena to stop it.

I think this entry is the most dramatic in the series thus-far. All the characters experience changes and have to grow in one way or another. Lena is no longer acting like an entitled little brat, learning to deal with the fact that Liv will always be a part of Ethan’s life, in one way or another. Liv has gone underground, spending most of her days in a study Macon set up for her in the tunnels, researching the supernatural events happening all over town. Ridley is trying to cope with life as a teenage girl at Jackson High and Link finds his newfound powers are good for more than just being a great basketball player and wooing the ladies. Ethan is just happy to have Lena back, but he is faced with much loss and many hard decisions.

I really liked the fact that we got to see Sarafine’s back story. As with the other novels, this one also contains flash backs, and Lena and Ethan witness Sarafine’s previous life, from her claiming until the day Lena’s father died. These scenes almost make the reader feel sympathy for Sarafine, but not enough to forgive her for the evil she has done, ultimately feeling the conflicting emotions that Lena, herself, is experiencing.

Amma has become more secretive and withdrawn. Her cooking isn’t as amazing as it used to be, she has been keeping things from Ethan that he should know, hiding out in her room, and delving into the darker side of voodoo. She has seen something in the cards that she will do anything to prevent from happening – including black magic.

John Breed actually gets a personality in this entry. He is no longer the annoying, girlfriend stealing, half-incubus. He actually seems to have a good heart and a desire to do the right thing – despite being raised by two evil incubi that want to destroy all mortals and casters alike. Ethan may hold a grudge, but Lena was equally as guilty, and there’s clearly more to John than there originally seemed.

I did have a good idea about the identity of “The One Who Is Two,” so that “twist” wasn’t much of a surprise to me. Also, I felt that the final fourth of the novel was a little inspired by the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has an evil character named Angelus and requires a sacrifice to stop an impending apocalypse. I’m not saying it’s a rip-off, just that both things also existed in that season, and I found it amusing. Could Garcia and Stohl be fellow Buffy fans?

While this novel doesn’t have any scenes that really stand out in my mind, I am actually fine with that. I really liked that it dealt more with the relationships between the characters and less on major events, like fairs and dances. These relationships are the core of this story – Ethan’s love for Lena, for Amma, for his aunts and his friends – it all leads to an ending that makes me exclaim, “You can’t end it there!”


Beautiful Redemption (2012)
Book #4

By: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural Romance, Drama

It’s been months since Ethan took the plunge to correct the Order of Things and save his friends and loved ones from an impending apocalypse. He wakes up in the “Otherworld” where he has breakfast with his mother and can visit with Aunt Prue whenever he likes. However, he can’t shake the feeling that he is not supposed to be in the “Otherworld,” and he misses Lena terribly. He will do anything to find his way home again, and Lena will do anything to make that happen. They reach across the barriers in an attempt to bring him back to the world of the living.

This final entry in the Caster Chronicles series is mostly based around Ethan’s adventures in the “Otherworld,” and despite how interesting that sounds, the book falls into competition with Book Two as being the weakest in the series. I just couldn’t get behind his quest. Maybe it’s because I’ve been away from the series for too long, but I don’t find Ethan’s romance with Lena as engaging as I once did. I felt he disregarded his mother’s feelings when he decided he needed to go back to Lena – and it was all about Lena – not his father who has been living under a spell so he doesn’t realize Ethan has died, not even Amma who has raised him and saved him from trouble countless times. He does eventually admit that he is torn about leaving his mother and that he does want to be with his father and Amma again, but for the most part Lena is all he sees and all he thinks about.

Lena, back in the mortal world, isn’t much better. As Ethan communicates to her through the barrier between worlds, she becomes consumed in aiding his quest to come home. She is willing to trade John to Abraham in order to get her hands on an object Ethan needs. She also freaks out on Macon for “spying on her” and on John for leaving Liv a note about what he was about to do (give himself to Abraham in trade), when it ended up saving her butt in the end. Abraham would have killed her had Macon not shown up when he had, yet she pouts and whines when she should be thankful. Really, Lena, if you want your uncle to take you seriously, you need to stop acting like such a child and use some common sense!

Truthfully, I was more entertained by the romances between Link and Ridley and Liv and John. Liv and John are just adorable together, and probably the most normal couple out of the three in their group. Even though he is half caster/half incubus, he genuinely cares about her and would do anything to make her happy. Then there’s the volatile love/hate relationship that is Ridley and Link – who communicate in a series of half-hearted insults and can’t seem to get over each other. It also helped their relationship that Link proved himself to be quite the hero during the showdown with Abraham – taking him on mortal style and winning.

Two interesting characters were introduced in this entry – Obidias and Xavier. Both men had angered the Far Keep and had been severely punished – Obidias given snakes for a hand that routinely bite into his flesh, and Xavier turned into a monster and forced to guard the gates of the Great Keep. Both men greatly aid Ethan on his journey – Obidias telling him what he has to do to get home and Xavier aiding him in the final battle. I really liked Xavier and I was glad that I got to see a flashback into his life and how he became the way he did. I wish I could have learned more about Obidias – but he is only in the novel for one chapter.

The one character that was just plain irritating to me was Angelus – one of the Keepers. He is evil, yes, but he’s also whiney and prideful – hateful of the very race he sprung from. He is, after all, a mortal, yet he refuses to believe that is so when he has modified himself so much he no longer resembles one. Despite his evil experimentations and his enslavement of dark casters for his own amusement, he still comes off more pathetic than villainous in his final confrontation with Ethan. I, for one, couldn’t wait for his character to be killed off, because he was more annoying than anything. Abraham Ravenwood was a legitimate villain; this guy was a prideful weakling riding on Abraham’s coattails.

I didn’t feel any real suspense. I knew that Ethan was most likely going to return to Lena, but I also didn’t really care that much if he did. I wanted to spend more time with his mother and get to know her character, as she has played a very pivotal role in the series despite being dead. It was also nice to finally meet the Greats that Amma always communicates with, but they also only get a chapter where they help Ethan and send him on his way – I still never really got to know any of them and I would have liked to. They have also served a large role in the series, and I felt they could have been given a little more face time.

The story in this one didn’t pull me in like the rest did. There was a cool new world to explore, but it wasn’t really plotted out very well – unlike the numerous tunnels in Books Two and Three. It is all about Ethan and Lena, and getting them back together again. Beyond that, nothing seems to matter, and that made it rather mundane to me. So much more could have been explored in dealing with the afterlife, yet so little was done, and I found myself rather bored and wishing the plot would just move along already. Characters with promise are underused, Ethan and Lena are both rather whiney and ungrateful, and the main villain is just irritating. I was hoping for a better finale.


The Series Overall: This is a cute supernatural romance series, but it does have its weak points – mostly Books Two and Four. Book One, Beautiful Creatures, introduces us to the characters and places them in regular high school situations that all readers can identify with. Many female readers can sympathize with Lena – most girls have been targets of girl-on-girl bullying at one time or another, and I know I would have loved to have my own personal Ridley by my side in Middle School. That sympathy for her and the fact that Ethan seems like such a great guy make the supernatural elements easier to digest. Book Three, Beautiful Chaos, is focused more on the development of these characters. Books Two and Four portray them at their most selfish and annoying – and that gets old quickly, but at least Book Two, Beautiful Darkness, explored the caster world in depth and revealed more about Ethan’s family that was completely unexpected.

My final ranking for the Series: 6/10

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