Review: Beautiful Darkness - Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Beautiful Creatures was the popular beginning of a YA series by collaborative authors, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. That book was turned into a movie which did not explode at the box office in the way producers had it would, following the lead of Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games. They changed the plot a little, in ways which won't entirely damage possibility of a sequel movie - if they get the go-ahead - but they do make continuing to film the Caster Chronicles difficult.

If you've read the first book, you won't be surprised that all the damage from the fight with Serafine has to be dealt with, and a large portion of Beautiful Darkness does just that. If you haven't read Beautiful Creatures yet, you might want to skip to the next paragraph. Ethan lives, but without the full details of his escape, unlike the readers, who know about Lena's trade, unknowingly giving Macon's life to save Ethan's. She blames herself for it, and while the whole Duchannes clan watches Lena procrastinate on her claiming further, she becomes convinced that she claimed herself when she sacrificed Macon. This is the main drama of Beautiful Darkness and preoccupies our moody teenagers for the entire book.

Lena, unable to forgive herself, pulls away from Ethan, unwilling to be reminded everyday of what she has done, and afraid she will hurt Ethan again. To up the ante, a nice caster boy shows up, with all the strength of an Incubus, but none of the weaknesses. Marianne, who is unsurprisingly absent, since her role as Keeper forces her neutrality, has a protégé who offers Ethan the same distraction that John offers Lena. Tell-tale twitches and over-stated side-long glances aside, we have no idea what John and the siren Ridley are bringing with them. But this time it's not just Serafine with her eyes on Lena and Ethan, someone bigger and badder is backing her now, and someone whom everyone is afraid of.

It was hard to get through all the emotional baggage that this book carries with it from the previous one, and I'm not the first one to say a serious slim-down of these novels would most likely have meant books that really pack a punch. But the story is interesting none-the-less for the same reasons, suffering from book-in-the-middle syndrome, but if you can fly through this 500 page book, you will enjoy it. I often got bogged down with all the brow-rumpling I was doing, but once I relaxed and let my inner critic doze through it, the interaction and angst got downright exciting.

Anyone who was paying close attention to Ridley, and not skimming too much, noticed that she isn't not as Dark as she is said to be. Especially toward the end when she's saying bye to her toy, we suddenly see she isn't as invulnerable as she claims. That continues when Link tags along with Ethan on his quest across the underground Caster world, Ridley's nervous ticks, frowns and sad eyes make us keenly aware of what should have been more subtle. Ridley doesn't shine as a character, but we are very sympathetic for her because she's a girl, and she's given a bad hand. Since most of those reading the Chronicles are girls, Ridley is the character we get emotionally intimate with, not only because her Cousin is absent for the majority of this book as well.

Amma also kicks it up a notch with her spiritual intervention, and the ancestors get downright bad-ass toward the end, using their strengths to help Ethan protect Lena from her claiming. The historical snapshots as well are much less tedious than those we saw about Genevieve in the last book. And since it's a book, the glimpses we get are much more tantalizing, making some plot-twists really fascinating.

As for the new characters in this one, John and Olivia "Liv" Durand. John is so suspicious that he's boring, and works better on the page when he's merely alluded to. Liv on the other hand, has cool gadgets, and a handy role in the story. She's a Keeper-in-training, filled to the brim with caster knowledge, and like her Giles-like role-model, is forbidden from interfering  She is, thankfully, insatiably curious, and tags along with Ethan and Link to 'observe'.

Beautiful Darkness is not the strong sequel that Beautiful Creatures needed, and it sits, like Liv does, on the edge of passive and adventurous. Middle books in a trilogy or quartet are hard. There's often a formulaic need to have your heroes running across Middle Earth for the majority of the book. In middle books, your going from first book to last book, without much to do, unless you skimp on the fluff, which none of the Caster Chronicles do. This installment reassures me that the serious is mild, yet refreshing. A dude in distress who can barely handle himself, but doesn't mope, weep or brood. He gets angry, but also gets on his feet and faces the dangers of being in love with a Caster girl, no matter what. I just wished he had been a little more demanding of all the people who wanted to shut him out, and I wish Lena had felt less contrived. If you find yourself flipping slowly, listlessly in the first 200 pages, stick with it, skim if you want, but push through. Because if you are really interested in learning how all these freaking moons that Lena has to deal with are resolved, the latter half really is the more interesting part of the book. Here's to hoping the sequel throws some serious surprises at us.

503pp. Little, Brown & Company. 10th Oct. 2010.