Ethan Wate, a small-town Southern teenager, is not looking for love. He’s just trying to get along after the death of his mother. His father has basically become a recluse, but Ethan has longtime family friend Amma – and wacky pal Link – to keep him company. And that’s enough, until he meets Lena. Lena is a mystery, and not just because she’s the new girl in town. Weird things happen around her. Unlikely weather events, for example. And the fact that she and Ethan can send each other their thoughts without speaking aloud. And that, when the two discover an old locket, they find themselves pulled into flashbacks of a couple from the Civil War era. This other, long-ago Ethan was in love with an ancestor of Lena’s . . . but their story ends badly. Will Ethan and Lena repeat history, or will the curse that Lena’s ancestor brought down on her family make things even worse this time around?
Ethan is a likeable protagonist, and Lena is an interesting and proactive character. Her family, full of “casters” who have different magical powers, is also pretty neat, though only a few members get much character development. The character-development gods do, however, smile upon Ethan’s friend Link. Link’s zaniness contrasts sharply with the strict, disapproving nature of his mother, who can’t stand Lena’s strangeness and feels she doesn’t belong in their town. It eventually becomes clear that it’s more than ordinary bigotry that has Link’s mom leading the town in a campaign against Lena, but the book might provoke some thought about intolerance just the same.
The physical setting of the town is not dwelt on much, but the Southern-ness of it is emphasized through dialect. It’s not heavy, but it is noticeable. As is the “wise old black woman housekeeper” trope, alive and well in the character of Amma (who is pretty powerful, but who only acts as a guardian and supporting figure). There are hints of an interesting array of different caster powers, but the book doesn’t develop its fantasy world that much, preferring mostly to dwell on interactions between characters.
There is an odd point-of-view stutter when, after the entire book so far being from Ethan’s perspective, we see an important scene occur while Ethan is unconscious. When Ethan recovers, we’re back to his point of view, and he doesn’t know the truth of what happened while he was out. I haven’t read the prose book, and I wonder how that scene is handled there.
It may say Beautiful Creatures: the Manga on the spine, but the style of the artwork isn’t the large-eyed, nearly-noseless look common in a lot of manga. It’s more realistic in its proportions and has fewer stylized elements. The lines are thin, almost spidery, and sometimes get scribbly to indicate shading or action, but everything is clear and easy to follow. My favorite element of the art might be Lena’s hair, which swirls around her in apparently-weightless tendrils, a good visual echo of her power and the uncertainty of her position.
This book could have a lot more boy appeal than most paranormal romance, with its relatively down-to-earth male protagonist, but unfortunately, you wouldn’t know it from the cover. With a love story that’s sweet and not scandalous (except insomuch as Lena is a witch), it will also be a good one to hand to fans of romance. The end hints strongly at a sequel, so readers may switch over to the original series to find out what happens beyond the scope of the graphic novel. The recent movie will likely spark more interest in the series, so this volume may be a good one to have on hand.