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Beautiful Darkness

Review

Beautiful Darkness

BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, the second book of a planned four-volume series, is a southern gothic fantasy unlike anything you've ever read. It focuses on magic and casters (without wands) and is set in Gatlin, South Carolina, a town populated by fundamentalists and civil war fanatics. Gatlin's peculiar appeal lies partly in its strong foundations and history, and partly in all the hateable and likable folks who live there. These people can be fierce and nosy and are obsessive about traditions, but most are good at heart and aspire to do simple things like cook a good meal or win the blue ribbon at the county fair. There are few outsiders in Gatlin and very few who know the truth about the oldest families in town.

Marion, Gatlin's kind, quirky librarian and magical keeper, is secretly in the know about the caster world. Lila, Ethan's late mother, had been another. Ethan's surrogate mother, Amma, is as aware as any about the magical plane that exists --- a descendant of one of the oldest voodoo clans in the South. And of course there are the casters, people like Macon Ravenwood and Lena Duchenne. Since meeting Lena, Ethan and Link are now closely involved with casters, but Lena, having forestalled her choice for a year, has an exclusive destiny written in the stars. As an elemental, her abilities are unpredictable and reach beyond the normal boundaries of magic.

Since the night of Lena's 16th birthday, her powers are growing, but she's having difficulty controlling her grief. With Macon lost and the outcome of her claiming ahead, it seems too much for her. Ethan is a supportive and tender boyfriend but is finding that he can't reach her anymore, despite the fact that he has experienced a similar grief. He is also becoming disturbed to see changes in Lena, and when he finally realizes their relationship is in trouble, Lena shocks him by revealing that she's leaving Gatlin.

Readers may be surprised by the unexpected changes that occur in BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, where the central couple walk separate paths for most of the book. With Lena fundamentally changed, she enters a series of magical tunnels as Ethan tries to reach her, and amid dark casters (her cousin Ridley among them) searches for a magical nexus. Ethan, meanwhile, tries to uncover the truth about his mother and her murder, and to determine the path he must take alone. This is a troubled and unsettling time for both as they ponder their strange connection and question whether a caster/human relationship is even worthwhile, let alone physically possible. The greater conflict of this second book seems to be not so much in the outcome of Lena's claiming as it is in the choice of who she is and who she'll pick.

There are some inventive ideas in this series that are unlike any popular fantasies out there. The question of good versus evil is not as cut-and-dried as in most YA books, and the casters have some really creative abilities and different sects to keep the novel interesting. Some great new characters who are major contenders in the love stories are introduced, and most of the best people from the first installment are still present and equally important. Link and Ridley are absolutely delightful in this second book (even more so than in the first), and their antics and dialogue add humor and a little wicked pleasure. As always, Link is a wonderful friend, and I was pleased to see the suggestion of an even bigger role for him in the next installment.

Though some fans are likely to be disappointed in the rocky central love story, I would expect to see more sparks fly in the final two volumes (to be released in the fall of 2011 and 2012).

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Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 18, 2011

Beautiful Darkness
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

  • Publication Date: October 12, 2010
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316077054
  • ISBN-13: 9780316077057