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Beasts of Prey

Have you ever read a book at the wrong time, come back to read it again, and loved it? For me, that book was Beasts of Prey. I started the book last year and was unable to get beyond the first chapter or two. It wasn't the type of book I was in the mood for at the time.

But I was determined to give the book a second chance. Beasts of Prey has been popping up everywhere on my media. When it was first released in September of 2021, Twitter and Instagram blew up with anticipation followed by praise for the book. It even has a Netflix deal despite not having been finished yet (it's the first in a trilogy).

When I hit a "fantasy novel" mood, I gave it another go.

I loved it. It was one of those rare books I would put on my "five-star books" shelf on Goodreads (which is reserved not just for five-star books but for those among them that are particularly amazing).

The "pan-African" world (the exact description Goodreads gives of the setting) that Gray creates in her novel is astounding. "Pan-African" refers to the mesh of African cultures and ethnic identities that are included in her novel. Gray's characters are Black but each culture she creates for the book is slightly different. Names coming from one group of people sound different from another (ex. according to Google, Koffi is Swahili meaning "born on Friday" while Ekon is Nigerian meaning "strong") and though the world worships a single set of gods (especially since the government is a theocracy), each group does so in a different way. I loved reading the novel set in this world. It was lush and vibrant with sprawling jungles, mysterious marketplaces, and stunning temple settings. Gray does a wonderful job of worldbuilding so you feel like you are there with the characters. Putting down the book is like leaving a world behind.

But Gray's world wasn't her only work of art in the novel. Gray also does a great job with her plot. There were plot twists! After reading thousands of different novels across genres and age levels, plot twists don't catch me by surprise as often anymore. I tend to know what's going on and where the book is taking us as readers. But in Beasts of Prey, I was constantly surprised. I had my theories (some of which were correct) but Gray took the book in a number of directions I didn't see coming and slowly reveals her intent through the POV of Ekon and Koffi who travel together as well as one timeline set in the past.

One thing I thought was great (which few other books do) was the way Gray has you thinking the book is about one thing before revealing the bigger problem her protagonists must face. The more common plot structure looks something like this.

  1. the protagonist discovers/encounters a problem or is invited into a new world

  2. ex. Percy Jackson is hunted by the minotaur; Alina Starkov is revealed to have control of light.

  3. the protagonist works to solve the problem, defeat the antagonist, and/or understand themselves.

  4. ex. Harry Potter and friends try to find the source of frozen students in Chamber of Secrets; Cinder builds a car to make her escape.

  5. a final fight reveals something (the protagonist usually wins)

  6. ex. Cinder fights Levana at the ball; Harry Potter faces the snake; Percy Jackson fights for the lightning bolt; Alina Starkov battles the Darkling.

Gray's plot is structured differently. Some books like Everless, Little Thieves, and a few others follow a similar structure:

  1. the protagonist is already dealing with a number of struggles, one, in particular, is highlighted and may grow worse.

  2. the protagonist works to solve the problem, defeat the antagonist, and/or understand themselves.

  3. the protagonist discovers an underlying or more important problem

  4. usually the first problem deals with their need to save themselves from something while the second involves them saving the world.

  5. the protagonist works to solve a new problem, defeat a new antagonist, and/or understand themselves.

  6. a final fight reveals something (the protagonist usually wins)

With some books like this, there can be a sense of vertigo. Unless the author writes the book extremely well, too many twists and turns result in the reader wondering why they're needed or getting lost. Instead, the purpose is to create suspense and surprise the reader. For example, the plot twists of Everless tend to feel as though they don't fit with the overarching story. I found myself thinking "that doesn't make sense" even while the characters were explaining how it was supposed to make sense.

This effect is not present in Beasts of Prey. Gray masterfully crafts her plot so that the twists come out of nowhere and surprise the reader but flow naturally within themselves. As the reader, I was constantly looking back after a plot twist and thinking "why didn't I see that coming?" The novel is easy to follow and Gray takes you on a journey with her that you wish will never end.

Gray's novel makes my "five-star" list, a list that includes only 25 books. Some of that number are The Book of Lost Names, Little Thieves, The Writer's Lexicon, and The Lunar Chronicles. The list represents books I've felt go above and beyond. To me, these books not only receive "five stars" in a review but are worth returning to over and over and suggesting to everyone I know. Beasts of Prey is incredible and one of so few to make this list and that deserves recognition. I may even order book #2 and I highly suggest checking out this book!

Books Like This: I actually haven't read many (if any) books like Beasts of Prey before. Its world and plot both have a different feeling to most of the books I've read (in a good way). If you know of some like it, let me know in the comments. I'd love to check them out.

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