The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

And The Moon And The Stars And The World (Review: Beautiful Darkness by M. Stohl and K. Garcia)

Beautiful Darkness
Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia
Razorbill 2010

Beautiful Darkness is the sequel to Beautiful Creatures.  If you haven't read the first book then do yourself a favour and skip this review until you do as it may contains spoilers.  

Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful supernaturals for generations. Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. (blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I really enjoyed Beautiful Creatures (review here), and would go as far as saying that it is one of the most instantly gripping debuts that I have read. While excited about Beautiful Darkness, I had vague worries that the series may fall into the trap of being slightly repeatative in tone with the same old song portenting doom. I needn't have worried as, while just as good, Beautiful Darkness is quite a different book to its predecessor.

Characterisation in this sequel is actually stronger than it was in Beautiful Creatures, particularly in terms of protagonist Ethan whose voice remains as strong and authentic as ever. While in Beautiful Creatures he sometimes seemed a little like a cipher for the paranormal escapades of Lena, Beautiful Darkness is very much his book. The authors certainly drag him through the mill yet he never fails to respond in a believable manner. I particularly liked the fact that he at times seems completely overwhelmed, confused and upset at the circumstances he finds himself in, rather than just taking everything mindlessly in his stride. His attitude towards his ever challenging relationship with Lena is interesting. At times I felt like he could do with a little more backbone when dealing with Lena, but at heart he really is just a nice southern boy, who wants to treat his lady nice. It's sweet.

Not so sweet is Lena. At the start of the book she is entirely conflicted and not a little unstable, due to her actions at the end of Beautiful Creatures. Actions which Ethan knows nothing about and about which she cannot tell him. This kind of pressure and inner turmoil turns Lena, to put it bluntly, into a bit of a bitch. While I could sympathise with her, it wasn't enough to make me like her and it's going to take time for me to accept her as my book buddy again. This, in all probability, says more about my slightly unforgiving nature than it does about Lena's characterisation. The authors bravely leave her character remaining fairly murky throughout the book and I really have no idea who she really is. This actually works really well, as neither does Ethan.

Much like Beautiful Creatures, there are some great secondary characters. Amma is as infuriatingly inscrutable as before, yet also pretty kick ass; the Sisters continued to make me laugh out loud, although I was sad at the lack of baby squirrels and Ridley and her lollipop appear and quickly become one of the most interesting aspects of the story. Villains abound and show plenty of promise for the future, particularly one whom I will refer to only as Colonel Sanders. Ethan's best friend, Link also has a far larger part in this story and I really enjoy their friendship with its simple honesty and loyalty. Finally, can I just say: I love you, Lucille Ball.

Whereas Beautiful Creatures was played out mainly in the mortal world, this book takes us far deeper into caster territory. In some ways the story reminded me of the decent quest games that you get for consoles (think Zelda or Final Fantasy) with Ethan travelling through rapidly changing scenery fighting bad guys and picking up interesting information along the way. This is not a criticism, as it all works very well and certainly sets things up nicely for the next book. What impressed me the most about Beautiful Darkness, however, was that there were at least four separate instances where the story took such a twist that I gasped out loud – I really did not see a lot of stuff coming, which I loved because usually I can see a twisty-turn coming a mile away and generally figure them out pretty quickly. Not in this case, oh no... I was in genuine shock.

If you enjoyed Beautiful Creatures then I see absolutely no reason why you wouldn't have a ball (if at times a rather sad one) reading Beautiful Darkness. The storyline is fab, the characters great and the writing beautifully lyrical – the prologue on its own is a work of art, setting the tone with real sophistication. I'd like to take a guess at where Ms's Stohl and Garcia might take Ethan, Lena and their ever growing band of brothers next but I'm not even going to try as these writers are two of the most original on the YA block.... I'm just going to imagine myself a glass of ice tea, a sunny porch to relax on, a neighbour to gossip with and sit back to enjoy the ride.

Beautiful Darkness is out now in America and is released in the UK at the end of October.  Thanks to Penguin for sending me this copy to review.


Lauren said…
I wasn't intending to read this review yet since I'm still to read this book... but I couldn't resist. I'm now feeling *really* psyched to read it. I'm even excited to read the prologue, and usually prologues make me grumpy.

Also, can I just say I kind of did a double take when you mentioned Zelda and Final Fantasy. I've played a few games from each of those series and I loved them for their storytelling and general epicness, so the comparison is really promising for me.
Splendibird said…
Ah, I am so glad that you've played some of those games! It really did remind me of the scale of the quests in good computer RPGs but I was worried about making the comparison in case it put people off but your comment has made me feel much better!
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