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Beautiful Darkness - Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl Left wanting better romance & more resolution again

In BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, Garcia and Stohl return to the world of Gatlin, where magic and mysterious happenings are afoot in an otherwise idyllic Southern town. Coming off the dramatic supernatural showdown on Lena's 16th birthday, Lena and Ethan are struggling to keep their relationship alive and to move forward, especially since Lena remains grief-stricken over her uncle's death. When Lena starts hanging out with Ridley and a dangerous new guy, Ethan decides to get to the truth about what's happening by traveling through the Caster tunnels underneath Gatlin. What awaits everyone is another dramatic face-off between the forces of Light and Dark, both of whom want Lena on their side.

Earlier this year, I read BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and enjoyed it, but it left me wanting better pacing, more romance, and a less contrived ending. Unfortunately, BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS didn't provide those things. Pacing dragged for the first 250 pages. Once the pacing picked up, the book switched from being about relationships and the past to being more of a heroic quest of self-discovery for Ethan. Though this could have been interesting, it didn't mesh well with the feel of the first half. Like the previous book, I also didn't find Ethan and Lena's relationship very moving, especially given how Ethan is now treated by Lena (though there is a plot reason). Ethan's voice, while sweet, is beginning to feel less and less believable. He seemed too nice and innocent (and I like good guys, not bad boys), and he never got really angry or scared or asked questions, despite what's happening. Continuity errors also drew me out of the story. Most frustratingly, the conclusion obviously set up things for the sequel, and it did so in a way that was terribly similar to the first book. The world building and mythology felt unnecessarily complicated and too convenient this time too; instead of being able to suspend belief and immerse myself in the story, I kept stopping to notice how things were working out too easily to further the plot or to protect certain characters.

On the positive side, this installment featured the introduction of new, likable characters like Liv and the expansion of existing ones like Link, Ridley, and even Ethan's deceased mother, who seemed to come alive as he learned more about her past. The development of the Caster and Otherworld mythology continued, including a lot of big reveals regarding each person's history and that of their families. A gripping back story for one couple in the past also added to the romance of the story.

Though BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS didn't meet my expectations, I'm sure that those who loved the first book will love this too. In the next sequel, I hope that Garcia and Stohl pick up the pacing and move beyond their set conflict to something more dynamic to keep readers interested and engaged.