Review: Beautiful Redemption, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

>>Published: October 2012

>>Finally got around to it: November 2012

“I don’t think you understand. Isn’t there some kind of door? A place where I can walk inside without having to play any games?” I didn’t have time for this. I needed to find The Caster Chronicles and get out. Get home.

Come on.

He slapped his hand against my arm, and I struggled to stay standing. The man was incredibly strong—Link and John strong. “It would be too easy if you could walk into the Great Keep. What would be the point of that?”

I tried to hide my frustration. “I don’t know? How about to get inside?”

He frowned. “Where have you come from?”

“The Otherworld.”

“Dead man, listen well. The Great Keep is not like the Otherworld. The Great Keep has many names. To the Norse it is Valhalla, Hall of the Lords. To the Greeks it is Olympus. There are as many names as there are men who would speak them.”

“Okay. I’m down with all that. I just want to find my way inside this one library. If I could just find someone to talk to—”

“There is but one way into the Great Keep,” he said. “The Warrior’s Way.”

***

Ethan and Lena: a mortal boy and a caster girl. Together they’re a southern, supernatural version of Romeo and Juliet. Granted that’s an obvious comparison, but a fitting one: fate-tied lovers kept apart both by family and tragic circumstances, but nonetheless drawn to one another. In Beautiful Redemption, the fourth and final book in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures quartet, Ethan and Lena aren’t faced merely with overcoming small town prejudice, evil lineages, or frightening prophecies and apocalyptic happenings, but crossing back from death itself in order to be reunited.

Following the end-of-the-world events of Beautiful Chaos, the third book in the series, in which the small town of Gatlin was overrun by a plague of lubbers, lakes drying up, and earthquakes and tornadoes tearing apart homes and families that have been rooted in town since time began, Beautiful Redemption begins in the immediate aftermath of Ethan’s sacrifice. Having given up his life to save his town and everyone he loves, Ethan, the wayward, finds himself on the other side of the coin, looking out from the land of the dead on the people he cared for most as they continue to live and, in many cases, refuse to accept his passing. As he works to find a way home to them—in the process solving the mystery of his unfortunate fate, and whether or not it had been tampered with—they in turn find ways to aid him from the other side, the mortal realm, in his quest to live again.

The Beautiful Creatures series has always been a bit of a strange beast: it tells an age-old tale of universe-splitting good versus evil, but contained entirely within a couple of small southern American towns and a handful of trips to far off places via a system of underground tunnels that link and shrink the world in magical ways. It very much encapsulates the idea of the world in a bubble, but to terrific effect: Gatlin feels alive in a way that Hogwarts did, though to a lesser extent—three-dimensional and fully realized, right down to the look and feel of the local haunts and the everybody-in-everybody’s-business vibe of the place. While the town feels at times a bit small and convenient in an everybody’s-in-on-the-big-secret sort of way, considering the possible ramifications of the story being told, the snow globe-style storytelling allows for careful, thoughtful crafting of both character and setting. In this sense, the Beautiful Creatures quartet stands on a different pedestal than other successful young adult series, such as The Hunger Games or the Uglies series, neither of which was able to craft a world with a similar rich lived-in feel, or characters so worth caring about.

Beautiful Redemption breaks from the mould established by the previous three entries in the series. Instead of being told entirely from Ethan’s perspective, the book alternates between Lena and Ethan, shifting focus every 100-200 pages from the mortal world to the afterlife—or their neither here nor there version of it. Despite taking place, literally, in two worlds, the story being told in Beautiful Redemption feels smaller and more compact than in the previous three. The largest good versus evil battle actually takes place in the second book, Beautiful Darkness, while the third, Beautiful Chaos, offers the series’ emotional climax. Though there is excitement to be had, and there are still a number of mysteries to solve, Beautiful Redemption feels, at times, more like a coda than a climax. That doesn’t negate its many qualities—chief among them the final steps taken in Ethan and Lena’s emotional journey, and the across the board acceptance they gain from those near and dear to them. However, apart from a mid-novel fight in which Link gets his Neville Longbottom hero moment, there is more resolution and emotional bow-wrapping than there are thrills and chills to this conclusion.

Redemption is the key word to this book, and everyone gets their chance at the piñata. Ethan and Lena have travelled the gamut of adult emotions, and their reward, should they succeed, is to finally have the opportunity to be teenagers in love, without a care in the world. Similarly, Ridley, Lena’s cousin and a Siren who’s caused more emotional chaos in three books than most villains could dream, is given her final fork in the road and offered a choice; while John Breed, a pain in the ass in the second book and a caged monkey in the third, is also finally given the chance to prove his worth.

Though I was not as taken with Beautiful Redemption as I was with the first and third entries (Creatures and Chaos), it is still a rich, satisfying conclusion to a uniquely voiced young adult series. The southern charms of the quartet and the strikingly adult manner in which Ethan and Lena’s relationship is handled, especially in the third and fourth books, go a long way in separating these four books from so much of what is out there today.

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