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.
The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale
Publication Date: March 17, 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
The Beast is an Animal reads like a Grimm’s fairy tale – the kind that doesn’t shy away from violence and death. While that aspect of the book initially drew me in, I found I had a hard time maintaining my attention just due to the length of the book. Fairy tales are meant to be brief and this novel carries on a bit too much, straying away from the initial plot.
The Beast is an Animal begins with the story of a woman who is cast away to live in the woods with her twin, toddler daughters when those living in the village become fearful that she is a witch and her children have the “mark of the beast” on them. The daughters grow up wild and watch their mother suffer over the years. Knowing what their father has allowed to have happened to them and their mother, they decide to enact their revenge upon him and all the adults living in the village.
The story then picks up with Alys – a girl the reader quickly realizes is a bit different than the other children. I loved Alys from the start. Even at the age of seven, she is strong-willed and courageous and I found those aspects of her character to be refreshing, especially since she only grows more confident and intelligent as the years pass.
A lot of the details felt drawn from Puritan history – the village rules, the Elders who maintain order, the fear of witches and the unknown. While the stories of the soul eaters felt original and entertaining, at times the other aspects of the novel felt a bit too borrowed from the witch trials of Salem, MA.
I was also disappointed at how quickly the story took a turn towards romance once Cian’s character was introduced in the second half of the novel. While many times, these types of relationships can strengthen a plot, I found it to be distracting from the tension that had been initially building around the threat of the soul eaters to the village.
Those who enjoy fairy tale-esque books will most likely love this novel. Personally, I most likely would have loved it more if it had been a short story or novella.