I am told, by very reliable sources, that the first Caster Chronicles book, with which I was (am) obsessed, is not the best in the series. In that case, I have high hopes for the third and fourth installments because the second, Beautiful Darkness, was bleak at best.
Much was missing from this second installment—perhaps most noteworthy, the relationship between Ethan and Lena. I understand than “Book 2 Breakups” are common in our YA universe; they create tension and add depth to the characters. But no depth was created from this temporary separation. I’m thinking now of New Moon (my favorite Twilight book) in which Edward leaves Bella but Bella develops a strong relationship with Jacob, which we readers were able to cling to and appreciate in the subsequent novels (even though we, obviously, wanted Bella back with Edward). In Beautiful Darkness, the authors do add new characters, but these characters don’t add to the plot or to our understanding of Ethan or Lena. Throughout this book, you never think for a second it will work with Ethan and the other girl, and, moreover, the other girl just has almost nothing likable about her. She is a base, stereotypical character, and the novel is filled with stereotypical YA filler dialogue and references to get through a couple hundred pages. (She’s British, and everyone calls her Mary Poppins.) Ethan also spends a lot of time with Link, who I have thought, since Beautiful Creatures, is much too much of a high school boy stigma. And Lena. Lena runs off to try and find herself (in a somewhat implausible way, if I might add) and only gets more unlikeable for it. She has her annoyances in the first book, but they’re magnified to an extreme here. And I still can’t fathom why she thought her method of self-discovery would make sense. She’s sixteen, but she’s not stupid. This leaves this book’s ending for the couple non-conclusive feeling—just cold and unrealized.
My other major qualm with this installment was the higher power intervention. This was present in Beautiful Creatures, but only minorly—Amma helped Lena save Ethan at Ravenwood. But in this second book, Amma, and Lena’s family, and Ethan’s crazy old aunts—they were everywhere. Ethan couldn’t do anything on his own, and he was even worse off when he was with Link and Liv (Mary Poppins). When they almost got eaten by a deamon, Amma saved them. When they almost got attacked by incubi, other Lena’s family had their backs. Ethan and his friends were never able to conquer anything or anyone. Isn’t the fun of YA the idea that teenagers can save the world?
What Beautiful Darkness did have going for it was a great cliffhanger ending. Ridley truly came into play in this book as a major driving force in the series. In the first book, I was tired of her childishly “bad” antics; now, I’m eager to see what she’ll stir up in the future.