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Early Review: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

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Beasts Made of Night // VBC ReviewBeasts Made of Night
Tochi Onyebuchi
Published: Oct. 31, 2017 (Razorbill)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Margaret

Rating (out of 5): 4 stars

We’ve probably all heard the term “sin-eater” to refer to someone who bears guilt on another’s behalf. (Yes, I know it’s also an old religious practice and a Marvel Comics character.) But what if it wasn’t a metaphor? In Beasts Made of Night mages can draw someone’s sin out of their body where it takes the form of a shadow animal, everything from lizards for a small sin like lying, to lions for a major sin. Young people called aki battle and then swallow the beasts, which become tattoos on their skin, while the guilt becomes part of their souls.

Seventeen-year-old Taj is the best of the aki in the city of Kos. He can defeat beasts that no other aki can. But he still lives in a hovel with several of his fellow aki. They’re outcasts, marked by their white pupils even when their tattoos are covered. The poor shun them and the wealthy who hire them take advantage of them. But one day, Taj’s skills draw the attention of the king and his life changes forever.

The royal family rules by virtue of being the purest, completely free from sin. But the aki know that it’s a lie. They’re corrupt, not to mention spoiled and out of touch with the people they rule. Taj’s new role gives him an opportunity to see just how deep the corruption goes and eventually to play a role in changing things. If he can survive long enough.

I enjoyed Taj. In some ways he’s a typical cocky teen, flirting with girls in coffee shops and obsessing about his hair. (The fact that he wants it to be a perfectly round puff amuses me since I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want their hair to be less frizzy.) He’s devoted to his found family of aki and the friends he makes in the palace. Taj also loves his city and spends a lot of time walking through it or looking out over it and telling us about it. I loved his world’s version of books, for example. From the very beginning he had me hooked.

But there are other areas that I wish were better developed. I knew from the blurb that the aki work for the mage council, but that’s not clear from the text until the end when Taj’s friend explains how the government has changed. And I never could figure out why Taj was attracted to the princess. The infatuation just seems out of character for him.

And there’s this thing that happens sometimes in fantasy where the main character, who’s always been a little different, hears legends or prophesies about people with powers like theirs. It’s implied that they may have that power or be that chosen one but they never have that “aha moment” that confirms it. (Can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?) In Taj’s case, he hears stories about how things were Before, that the beasts were not always made of shadows and that mages weren’t the only ones who could control them. I found all that mythology fascinating, but it’s not until the very end of the book that it’s relevant. And even then, I was missing the “aha moment.”

Still, I really enjoyed Beasts Made of Night. The magic, based on Nigerian folklore, is unique and interesting. The plot is twisty and has a true cliffhanger. If you liked Flame in the Mist, I think you’ll definitely like this one. Though the worlds are very different, the books have a similar feel.

 Sexual content: none

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