This is book one in the ‘Caster Chronicles’ a series of four books continuing in ‘Beautiful Darkness’, ‘Beautiful Chaos’ and ‘Beautiful Redemption’.
This book starts out in a very similar vein to other teen urban fantasy novels, except this time we’re listening in on some male angst rather than the traditional female protagonist. There are lots of complaints about various other different characters in the book, explaining how everyone knows everyone, it’s a small town, then *drum roll*, a new girl shows up on the first day of the new school year! Ethan Wate and his family have lived in Gatlin South Carolina for generations going back to the American Civil War and it seems this is the same for most of the characters in this book. Everything is pretty dull and boring and no-one moves away or arrives in Gatlin.
This does mean that Ethan is able to give some great background to all the characters and their various families which is pretty interesting. Then along comes Lena Duchannes, the new girl, niece of the town weirdo named Boo Radley by Ethan. Lena sounds to me like a bit of a goth girl, interesting dress sense and likes to read essentially not your traditional cheerleader type. Lena confides in Ethan, after a large amount of book has passed, that she is a Caster (hence the series title) which is someone who has special magical abilities like being able to make things move or charming people into doing what you want. This doesn’t seem to bother Ethan that much as he lives with Amma, who is like a mother and grandmother rolled into one, and who has her own magical tendencies. The important fact is that when she turns sixteen, Lena is going to either turn to the dark or the light, something she has no power to control. Most of this book concerns Lena and Ethan finding out more about the Casters and about their slightly shared history.
Pushing at nearly 600 pages, this is definitely not a short book and at times it does feel like it drags a little, it really is pretty intense in terms of plot and character description for a traditional young adult read. Not that I’m saying this isn’t a good thing, it probably is in terms of bridging the gap between traditional YA books and more adult fiction. There are also a lot of different characters to get to know. However, this isn’t too onerous as they are all very distinct and memorable, some of my particular favourites are Link and, obviously, Marian the librarian. There is also a whole new magical world to learn about, along with the American Civil War and a load of new characters, but this again is done really well, making sure the reader isn’t left at all confused.
Although I did enjoy the male protagonist, there were points at which I felt that it wasn’t too convincing, especially when Ethan was talking about the dresses either Lena or one of the other girls was wearing. He went into just a little too much detail for me to truly believe we were listening in on a male voice. But on the whole, it was an interesting viewpoint to take.
I loved the fact that they discussed ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and made loads of references to it. I really hope this makes at least some people read the book, I’m sorry to say I’ve only recently read it in my 30s.
I also enjoyed learning a little more about the American Civil War through some interesting flashbacks and stories told by current Gatlin residents. Basically, at some points, this book becomes a kind of time-slip romance along with the story of Lena and her decision to go with the dark or the light on her sixteenth birthday. Between these two stories, there are a lot of cliff-hangers and exciting moments in the book where you just want to skip ahead and find out how it all concludes.
Garcia and Stohl throw a lot of little teasers at the reader within the first few pages of the book, like what’s with the weird dreams, the odd song that arrives and then vanishes and what’s under the sheet in Ethan’s fathers study? Most of all, what exactly does Amma know about the new girl? All little things to tempt you into reading the rest of the book to try and find answers. However, considering there are another three books in the series, I’m guessing that at least some of them will only be revealed to those hardy enough to read the entire series. Oh and I was interested to see that they used Welsh within the book, although they did call it gibberish!
This is not high literary prose, but it isn’t a bad book and, to be fair, the writing is pretty good with no glaring errors or clumsiness. I would definitely recommend it as a great start to a new series to read.
(pub: Penguin. 576 page paperback. Price: about £3.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-014134-614-4)
check out website: www.penguin.co.uk