The Beast is an Animal - Peternelle van Arsdale

Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village. These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

This book is seriously creepy. There's a mix of gorgeous imagery and folk tale literary allusion, combined with strong characterization for both the "good" and "bad" individuals within the narrative. The Beast is an Animal is painted with rich colours and van Arsdale keeps readers guessing through minimal description and withholding bits and pieces of necessary information until just the right moment. The overall book is a delicious fantasy tale that will satiate the appetites of many young adult readers from a variety of backgrounds.

There is a religious element to the story that feels somewhat overly "black and white" which I use here purposefully because the religious figures literally wear black and white. The didacticism of this religious element combined with the similarities to Christianity make this aspect of the narrative bulky and unnecessarily instructional. The development of a series of names with contemporary pronunciations was also a bit strange to me. With names like Alys ("Alice") and Pawl ("Paul"), I wondered why the author didn't just go full-on and create new names without the obvious connections to contemporary naming conventions.

These quibbles aside, I still found the book to be engaging and spooky, with some truly evocative imagery throughout. The Soul Eaters were particularly intriguing, and their overall role was not what I expected it to be. I think a lot of readers who enjoy fantasy and non-traditional storytelling will find much to love in van Arsdale's novel.

Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reader's Copy - Out Feb. 28, 2017)

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