I became interested in Morgan Keyes' Darkbeast when I saw it being mentioned in Lynn Flewelling's LiveJournal. The story seemed interesting and original to me, so I'm glad that I had a chance to read and review Darkbeast.
In my opinion Darkbeast is one of the most positive reading experiences of 2012. I enjoyed reading reading it, because it was a sophisticated, nuanced and complex story about a young girl who dared to disagree with the norms of the society.
Before I write more about my feelings about Darkbeast, here's a bit of information about the plot and the world of the book:
The events take place in a world called Duodecia. Duodecia is a fascinating world, because people worship twelve deities and chilren become adults when they reach the age of twelve. The children in Duodecia have a telepathic link to the darkbeasts. They have to sacrifice their darkbeasts when they become twelve in order to be righteous. If somebody doesn't obey the rules, the feared Inquisitors are sent after them.
At the beginning of the book, Keara is fascinated by the Travelers who come to her village. She's almost twelve. Her mother has hidden her from the Primate's titheman, because she hasn't paid her head tax (paying tax can be difficult for girls who have become women, because they may have to borrow money to pay the tax). Keara wants to live in the Women's Hall and be free of her mother, but despite her need to be independent she knows that she loves her mother. Caw is Keara's darkbeast. Keara shares her thoughts and feelings with Caw. When Keara has to sacrifice her darkbeast, she doesn't accept the rules of the society and decides to follow her own heart (Keara is a strong willed girl who refuses to submit to rules of the society, because she can't imagine a life without her darkbeast). Keara is forced to flee from her village, Silver Hollow, with the Travelers...
Morgan Keyes has created a believable, vivid and detailed fantasy world. The first narrative mode works perfectly, because the reader will see the happenings through Keara's eyes. The worldbuilding is subtle and the reader gradually learns more things about the world.
Darkbeast is a beautifully written and touching coming of age tale for children and young adults. Morgan Keyes has a talent for storytelling and she writes captivatingly about Keara's life, problems and feelings. I think that several readers will be able to identify themselves with Keara. It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl when you read this book, because Keara's problems will be of interest to both boys and girls.
In today's overcrowded YA fantasy market Darkbeast is like a beautiful rose bush in the middle of a garbage heap. I've noticed that at this moment there are several urban YA fantasy books in the market, but it's difficult to find good traditional YA fantasy books, which is a shame. That's why books like Darkbeast are important to the YA fantasy genre - they remind us how entertaining and fantastic traditional fantasy can be.
Everybody who reads this book will - without a doubt - admire the way Morgan Keyes writes about Keara and the happenings. I think it's great how the author brings Keara to life with her nuanced writing.
Darkbeast reminds me a bit of the old classics by Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper. It's slightly related to them in the terms of charming storytelling and magical atmosphere. It manages to be a bit different kind of a YA fantasy book, but it's loyal to its roots, which lie deep in the traditional YA fantasy genre.
The sequel, Darkbeast Rebellion, will be published next in the fall of 2013. I'm sure that it will be worth the wait, because Darkbeast is an excellent YA fantasy book, which appeals to both young adults and adults.