Some good news for the Beautiful Creatures-lovers out there is that I can totally see this book as a movie. Some not-so-good news is that it's going to be one of those with fancy CGI explosions/fireworks at the end, which serve only to disguise the lack of a surprising, unpredictable ending. So here is where I spoil this ending for you (aka WARNING, SPOILER!):
Lena does not turn Dark. In fact, she may yet turn Dark in the next book. So all that angsty star-crossed lovers lead-up, otherwise known as Twilight, was in vain. All the stress and worry over the sixteenth birthday - and nothing happens. Nobody is defeated, no particularly surprising or interesting secrets are revealed in the last pages. One good guy dies, whose presence I could live without in the sequels, even if Lena can't. In a nutshell, the past of Greenbrier is relived by the "reincarnates" Lena and Ethan, except that Lena is not claimed as Dark or Light because no moon appeared in the sky on her birthday. And apparently this is unheard of in Casterworld! There is always a moon! So we the readers lose out on a real conclusion to the story of Dark vs. Light. Which as you can probably tell makes me sad because I did like the idea of the book. I just found myself too interested in the specifics of Dark vs. Light, what makes them tick, the decision-making process if there is one: basically the moral back-and-forth you get from your favorite vampire books.
As for the line: Mortals. I envy you. You think you can change things. Stop the universe. Undo what was done long before you came along. You are such beautiful creatures.
I was expecting this to also come into play by the end somewhere, something a la "Yes We Can!" But all our protagonist managed was to get stabbed and resurrected by his girlfriend, and that only because of a last-minute save, which saw that there was no moon in the sky at the Claiming, which really makes for no Claiming at all, on Lena's birthday. And when this is the major story of a whopping 500-page book that Claims to be the next Twilight series, it is disappointing to say the least.
So to be a fair reviewer, I will sum up my likes and dislikes here in two lists because this post is already too long:
Likes: the dark, brooding atmosphere; the characters and their development; the history of Gatlin/the South, esp. as corresponds with Lena's/Ethan's family trees; Caster mythology (they're not witches!)
Dislikes: the ending; the fact that it was impossible to even guess what those little poem-songs meant that Ethan kept hearing throughout
In the sequel due out October 2010, which after editing this post in late March, I realize is going to be called Beautiful Darkness, I hope to see: further character development, more on the Caster history, other Casters in Gatlin, a real development of Ethan and Lena's relationship, more parallels between the South and Caster history. In other words, much of the same, because while I have my hangups, I found the first book to be successful with some original supernatural themes, wacky and interesting characters, and a Southern gothic atmosphere to die for.