December 20, 2012

Darkbeast

by Morgan Keyes
ages: 10+
First sentence: "The Travelers arrived in Silver Hollow a week before my twelfth nameday."
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Review copy provided by the publisher.

Keara (two syllables, not three) is the youngest of three daughters of a widowed mother, and lives in a small village in the center of the country Duodecia. Nothing much has happened to her: she's grown up, working alongside her mother who was trying to teach her how to be a good wife, waiting for her 12th nameday so she can become a woman.

Except that means she'll have to kill her darkbeast, friend, and companion, the raven Caw.

See, in the religion of this country, each child is assigned a darkbeast -- an animal companion to stay with them, and help take away their faults, sins, and vices -- at birth. They grow up with them, and are (generally) supposed to hate the chain, and want to be free of it.

But, come Keara's nameday, she finds she can't kill her best friend. She lets him free, and becomes one of the Lost, the people who go against the religion. Which means the Inquisitors are going to get involved. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Sorry. But, truthfully: it was kind of like that; one of my quibbles is that I felt Keyes was making some sort of commentary on religious extremists. But that may be me just reading things into it.) Which is something no one wants.

So, Keara goes on the run, joining with a group of Travelers -- traveling actors -- in order to hide from the Inquisitors. She finds a home there, and friends, including Vala and Goran. But, it's also there that she finds out that life is not as simple as she was hoping it would be.

There was much to like about this one (as C, who read it first, was constantly telling me). I do have a soft spot for fantasy religions; I am always interested to see how the gods and goddesses fall out, how the religion is developed, and this one doesn't disappoint in that regard. My quibbles (aside from the religious extremism one) fall on the characters: I didn't like any of them. (Well, that's not true: I liked Goran. But there wasn't enough of him.) I felt Keara was a bit of a brat, and Vala was a bit too good to be true. It wasn't until I was talking to C that I realized what Keyes did: she made a 12-year-old realistic. Especially one that's a youngest child with two really accomplished older sisters.

Having realized that, I have a lot of respect for Darkbeast; it's a solid coming of age novel, with some genuine conflict and heartfelt emotion.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I've been asked to make sure y'all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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