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Darkbeast, by Morgan Keyes

Morgan KeyesDarkbeast [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], began as a short story in the anthology Fantastic Companions, edited by Julie Czerneda. Which now has me thinking how cool it would be to try to do the same thing with my own story from that anthology… But that’s completely off topic, sorry. I blame this cold, which has turned my brain into overripe cauliflower today.

In Keyes’ story, the companions in question are darkbeasts, creatures given to each newborn by the gods to take the children’s negative feelings and impulses into themselves. For example, when our protagonist Keara disobeys her mother, she’s sent to her darkbeast Caw, a crow who takes Keara’s disobedience into himself. This arrangement lasts until the child’s 12th birthday, at which time the child is expected to kill his or her darkbeast as part of a religious ceremony marking their transition into adulthood.

But unlike most children, Keara loves her darkbeast. She loves their telepathic bond, the comfort and companionship Caw provides. So when the time comes to kill Caw, she refuses. She flees her village, the only home she’s known, and joins up with the Travelers (actors and storytellers who tour from one town to another.)

Caw tends to steal the spotlight. He’s fun, always demanding snacks and treats, and always accepting Keara and all of her faults. But keeping him alive violates one of the core laws of the priesthood, and if the Inquisitors catch Keara, both she and Caw will suffer.

This is a YA middle grade book, relatively short, quick-paced, and easy to read. But I found myself wishing it was longer, with a bit more exploration and discussion of the world, the gods, the religion, the magic… I wanted to know more about how and why things worked the way they did. The structure of the novel means we discover things along with Keara, and many of the revelations don’t show up until the very end of the book.

The book tends to raise questions obliquely, circling around the true roles of the darkbeasts, the place of the Inquisitors, and more. But those questions, while thematically central, are often a step removed from the plot. Keara makes friends and enemies among the Travelers, learns their ways, shares their urgency to create a new and daring performance. And in the midst of those conflicts and struggles, we see how the darkbeasts fit into the children’s lives, and the cost those children pay when they kill their darkbeasts and become adults.

Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but a part of me wishes the story had addressed some of those questions more directly. But it’s not until the end when we finally rip the curtain aside. Which really makes me hope there’s a second book starting where this one left off. (Morgan Keyes - if you’re reading this, that was a hint! ;-) )

ETA: Keyes has confirmed a sequel. Darkbeast Rebellion will be coming out on September 24, 2013.

Who else has read this one, and what did you think?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 28th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)
I read this book in manuscript form and loved it. And I think it is a middle grade, not a YA, which is probably why it doesn't have the depth you were looking for. My guess is that you are a teeny bit more sophisticated than the reader the book was aimed at. On the other hand, I found it entrancing and very satisfying as is, and assumed that more of the answers would follow in book two.

And yes, Virginia, there is a book two :-)
Dec. 29th, 2012 01:02 am (UTC)
Never overestimate my sophistication!
Dec. 29th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC)
I did say "teeny bit," you'll notice.
Dec. 28th, 2012 09:18 pm (UTC)
Hmmm... Why yes, Mr. Hines! There is a second book -- one that will be in stores September 24, 2013... (It's called DARKBEAST REBELLION, and it starts just a couple of months after the action in DARKBEAST ends.)

Thanks so much for your kind words about my baby!
Dec. 28th, 2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
Oh I'm glad to hear that -- I had the same reaction as far as wanting more and wanting answers!
Dec. 29th, 2012 12:02 am (UTC)
Excellent! I shall update the review with that tidbit :-)
Dec. 29th, 2012 12:39 am (UTC)
Just want to add my voice to the "It's middle grade, not YA" chorus, as that's a battle I am determined to keep fighting. :)

I have DARKBEAST high on my TBR pile, and and I can't wait!
Dec. 29th, 2012 01:02 am (UTC)
I have fixed that in the review, thank you :-)
Dec. 29th, 2012 01:58 am (UTC)
I hope your cold gets better soon and your brain is de-cauliflowered.
Dec. 29th, 2012 03:59 am (UTC)
Thank you for your review on this one - it sounds very interesting. I shall add it to my wishlist for the future. :o)
Dec. 29th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
I was lucky enough to win one of the copies from her blog tour. I enjoyed the book and think it does follow the target audience well. I too noted the way that she focuses on the character and the character nature and think that there are some great aspects of children captured within the story. Just the part of not always thinking things through or even knowing the consquence, still carrying on. But also not constantly doing this or not learning from it. For children at that age (12) there is a lot of chances to act more thoughtfully as well.

I want to know how priests of the different groups become such. If it's something that starts after becoming an adult, or earlier.

But if you like world building, one of her earlier series has some great world building that you also see in this one.

Sorry for incoherency, people around me trying to talk to me as I type.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines

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