Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book review: Dead Beautiful

Dead Beautiful
A language long forgotten, hauntingly beautiful settings and a girl who just can't resist the impulse to dig up secrets from the grave, makes Dead Beautiful one compelling read.


Disclaimer: This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon (Usborne)
I'm not quite sure when I first came across Yvonne Woon's Dead Beautiful, but I vividly remember being sold on the basis of the book being set in a cold, snowy small town - where a prestigious and old Gothic boarding school shrouded in secrets and clandestine activity, forms part of the book's main backdrop.

While good characterisation and an intriguing plot obviously make up a good part of defining whether or not a book is good or bad, there's nothing that adds more to the depth of a novel than an author setting the tone and mood of the book with fantastic - in this case, dark, lush, beautiful and sinister - settings.

And Dead Beautiful, in spite of falling prey to some of the more stereotypical elements that the Young Adult genre is so often prone to, is certainly one of the most beautifully descriptive novels I've read this year.

The novel kicks off when we're first introduced to Renee Winters, a teen living in sunny California.

Living the laidback life, and having just caught the attention of the popular boy she's been crushing on for ages, things couldn't be going better for her.

Well, at least not until one afternoon, when driving through the scenic parts of Cali, an unusual force of compulsion leads her into the heart of the Redwood Forest where she discovers the dead bodies of her parents.

Bewildered with grief, she soon receives a visit from a grandfather she barely knows; a grandfather who soon whisks her away and sends her off to Gotfried Academy, an isolated boarding school situated in the cold, wintry town of Maine. 

Upon her arrival, she soon discovers that the school she's attending is far different to the one that she's previously attended.

With crude sciences, horticulture, philosophy and Latin forming the greater part of her studies, Renee soon finds herself in a world shrouded in secrets, curses and ancient rituals that haunt the very hallways of Gotfried Academy.

Of course, the dark and gloomy world of shadowy things wouldn't be complete without the presence of a beautiful, aloof and mysterious boy in the midst of the confusing new place that she's in.

Despite the two of them not exactly getting off to the right start, Renee can't deny the fact that she's both attracted to and intrigued by the mystery surrounding the enigmatic Dante.

Soon, the two can barely stay away from one another.

Yet, things are not as clear cut as they seem - and as the budding relationship grows, so too does the knowledge that they're treading into dangerous and unchartered territory.

Not only is Dante hiding secrets of his own, but it's those very secrets that has a lot to do with the reason that romantic relationships have pretty much been outlawed at Gotfried Academy.

And with students disappearing and creepy and strict Monitors lurking about campus at night, the school has never been more on alert.

In the midst of it all, Renee, who has never been one for adhering to rules, is more determined to find answers to all of her questions - particularly when she discovers that there may be more to her parents' death than everyone has led her to believe.

I know. I know.

The book sounds like something we’ve all read before, doesn’t it? And yet, despite my cynicism, I decided that read it I must.

And believe it or not, Dead Beautiful ended up surprising me in so many ways.

Based on the book's title, I was initially under the impression that this book was just another book about vampires, but while it does deal with the concept of being undead, it does so in a way that I haven't come across very often, if not at all.

While this is no perfect read, Dead Beautiful certainly proves to be a book that is not only very beautifully written, but it's also one that immerses you into an ancient world of Latin and classical philosophy - subjects I've always been interested in.

Many readers have criticised this book for a) having such a slow start, b) taking too long to get to the point and c) being weighed down by laborious descriptions, but I tend to have an odd habit of enjoying aspects in novels that are problematic to others.

Because I’m a huge fan of lyrical writing and detailed narrative, I found myself really enjoying the slow build-up to the eventual and main storyline of the novel. 

In fact, while I thought the characters were rather staid in their typecast roles, it was the actual concepts being explored within the novel, as well as the writing, that really had me glued to the book.

The romance between Renee and Dante is pretty standard fare, and as characters, they are not altogether memorable; but, combined with themes that explores both the transient nature of the soul (based on philosophical principles) and interesting and ancient burial rites, Dead Beautiful proves itself to be one of the more eloquent and intelligently written YA paranormal novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

If I could give you advice regarding this book, it would be to tell you to read it for the wealth of interesting ideas presented in the novel, not for the characters.

I'm looking forward to reading Life Eternal, the sequel to Dead Beautiful.

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