Building a strong world gets bogged down in mean romance
Ayana gray Beasts of prey is one of fall’s liveliest YA fantasies, and for good reason. A Pan-African tale of magic, corruption, adventure, and strange creatures steeped in atmosphere and mythology, it’s a tale that is easy to get lost in.
In the fictional jungle town of Lkossa, magic once flourished, mostly wielded by users known as darajas. But when a magical earthquake, known simply as “The Rupture,” occurs, these mages are driven underground, ostracized, and rejected by a society that accuses them of destruction.
16-year-old Koffi is a contract maid at the Night Zoo, who pays off her late father’s debts by helping care for dangerous creatures. Ekon, 17, has spent his entire life training to become one of the Sons of the Six, an elite group of warriors. The couple’s lives will become entwined when she saves them from a deadly magical beast known as Shetani that has stalked the people of Lkossa for years. In the process, Ekon is exiled from the warrior class and Koffi finds himself facing a life of servitude.
The couple decide to join forces to hunt the dangerous animal on their own, a journey that will change not only their own lives, but their understanding of the forces that forged their country and its people. A third point of view that runs throughout the book, that of another daraja named Adiah, also adds crucial context and emotional weight, ultimately fitting in perfectly with Ekon and Koffi’s stories in a neat and surprising way.
It’s easy to see why Netflix chose Gray’s novel: Beasts of prey takes place in a rich and fascinating fantasy world populated by intriguing people and creatures. The idea of ââthe Great Jungle, a lush setting filled with a variety of eerie creatures and possibly gods, is visually striking. And the story’s magical system – known as Splendor, and which involves a deliberately symbiotic relationship between the mage who uses it and the natural world around it – feels fresh and new.
The only downside to the story, however, are the cookie-cutter enemies of something more romantic at its center. That Koffi and Ekkon end up romantically entangled was evident from the first pages of the book, they are perfectly matched in the same way that the opposites that are meant to be together often are. And here’s the thing: normally I’m a complete sucker for an enemies-to-lovers relationship, this is one of my favorite tropes! But in his haste to make a late emotional rhythm harder, Beasts of prey rushes into the development of their romance, and the two range from barely tolerating each other to almost kissing in what feels like a handful of pages.
But, as the flaws go away, it’s an issue that’s easily overlooked – and something that’s likely to be less of a problem in the novel’s inevitable sequel. (Since the two will already be romantically involved at this point.) And the strength of the rest of the story helps more than balance it out, leaving a final product that feels like it could go into no. any direction in the next book.
Beasts of prey is available now.