Ayana Gray’s Beasts of Prey (Putnam 2021) has been hanging out on my TBR since Christmas. Following Children of Blood and Bone (we won’t discuss the second installment in *that* series), I developed an appreciation for Pan-African young adult fantasy novels, and there are elements of Beasts of Prey that remind me of Children of Blood and Bone, the Tristan Strong trilogy, Skin of the Sea, and The Gilded Ones. I find great pleasure in these books that are tossing the fantasy canon ass over tea kettle and giving us the folklore, mythology and magic that has been long absent in the publishing industry.
Beasts of Prey is Gray’s debut novel, and the second installment has been published, but it hasn’t made its way to the TBR cart. Yet. I will read Beasts of Ruin eventually, but those follow-up installments can be tricky.
Told in dual timelines, Beasts follows Adiah, a powerful daraja, who is learning to use and control splendor (magic), but she is frustrated and easily manipulated. One hundred years later, Koffi and Ekon live in a world without magic (or so they think) but with stories about what ruptured the sky. An unlikely pair, Koffi and Ekon join forces to hunt the Shetani, a monster in the jungle who is killing people. Koffi needs to capture the beast to free herself, her mother and a dear friend from servitude. Ekon needs to kill or capture the beast to restore honor to his name so that he can be appointed as a warrior for the Sons of the Six. But the jungle is alive and full of secrets. And magic.
In my opinion, there were a lot of missed opportunities in Beasts of Prey, especially in the development of the character of Koffi.
Koffi had all the potential in the world to be a bad-ass heroine. She has lived most of her life as an indentured servant at the Night Zoo caring for wild beasts. I wanted more of the Night Zoo and her connection to these animals. And I wanted to see her rely on that knowledge when they encountered wild and bizarre beasts in the jungle. Instead, Ekon must save her repeatedly. I have a feeling that power shift will happen in Beasts of Ruin – or at least I’m hoping.
The novel is well-written with an intriguing premise. I loved the dynamic between the Gedes and the Yabas, particularly in their worship; they have the same gods, but the Gedes rely on the animal familiars to pass messages to the deities because they are not allowed in the Yaba temples. While there is a romance (or two), it doesn’t cloud or bog down the novel, unlike a lot of other works in this genre. Overall, it’s a well-done debut.
Read this book.