Title: The Beast Player
Author: Nahoko Uehashi, Translated by Cathy Hirano
Publisher: Henry Hold and Company Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: In epic YA fantasy about a girl with a special power to communicate with magical beasts and the warring kingdom only she can save.
Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the beasts mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath she manages to send her daughter to safety.
Alone, far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can talk to both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great powers, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no way of escaping the terrible battles to come?
Review: I am so glad that more international YA books are being translated for an American audience. Many American books are sold overseas, but we do not receive in the same amount that we send out, so I’m glad that this imbalance is slowly changing. It’s why I was excited to read “The Beast Player” as I’ve never read Japanese fantasy from an Japanese author, and honestly, I am the better for it.
I’ve only recently come into really reading fantasy, so the slow starts to some fantasy novels, and “Beast Player” is no exception, tend to throw me off a bit. I struggled with some of the early parts to this novel, but Uehashi was laying the ground for all the political intrigue that would effect Elin’s life when she was older, so the world building had to be complete; we needed to know Elin’s past in order to understand her decisions in the future. We also needed to fully understand the world that Elin lives in and Uehashi did an excellent job of creating this beautiful, fantastical world that felt very complete. Because of all the world-building and set up in the beginning, the second half of the novel moves very quickly and you really feel for Elin and the decisions she has to make. In fact, my heart broke for her so many times. Elin has a strong bond with her Leelan, her Royal Beast, that any pet owner will immediately recognize, and what she went through to keep Leelan safe just pulled at my heart.
One aspect of the novel that I greatly enjoyed was all the different perspectives the novel gave us. Through the different characters, I was able to get a complete picture of the world Uehashi created, but to also understand the reasons the characters made specific decisions. There is a plot twist that I did not see coming, even with all the different POV’s, which is another testament to Uehashi’s skill. The only downside is that the novel ends rather abruptly, but I think there is another book coming, so hopefully the questions I was left with at the end will be answered. I really enjoyed The Beast Player and if you’re into fantasy, you should go pick up this novel.