The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale

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The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sophie Diamond
Reviewed by Sophie Diamond
Summary: Absolutely exquisite. Wonderful, weird and perfectly pitched between reality and fantasy. Could not recommend it more highly.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471160455

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The Beast is an Animal, but what does that make Alys? Alys was only seven when her village was set upon by the Soul Eaters; she was the only one to see them. Alys and the other orphans are sent to the neighbouring village but this place is not like home. In the strange village of Defaid people are pious, they say that Alys's village must have been in league with the Beast, that they drew the Soul Eaters in. People in Defaid are suspicious, and they are particularly suspicious of Alys, though she never tells a soul what she has seen. Despite it's piety and it devotion to the ways of the Shepherd, Defaid feels the Soul Eaters creeping ever closer, luring them with their singing. Alys does not like Defaid or its residents and she does not belong there, Alys knows the danger of the Soul Eaters but she is drawn to them. As she grows older and the danger grows greater, the dark question grows larger in Alys's mind, is she bad like them?

This book is exquisite. I can't say too much without giving it all away but I want to dissect every last inch of it. I've been lucky enough to read a string of fantastic books recently but this is the best one this year. What Arsdale has done so brilliantly is combine fantasy with a medieval witch hunt theme, so it makes it familiar and grounded but also really creepy and original. Oh my is this book creepy! I didn't want to read it in the dark. The writing was so brilliant, I could feel the Soul Eater's voice in my ear.

I've categorised the genre of this as teen but it could easily be fantasy or general fiction. I wouldn't recommend young children read this. In some ways this is a dark fairy tale, a young girl drawn to a danger in a forest but in others in reads more like a parable. Both genres are didactic tales of morality but this is so relevant. Centuries of literature have created monsters out of a very real fear of things they don't understand and that's exactly what happens here. Anything different is ugly or bad or dark magic. Nobody stops to question it or understand it. This is what confuses the protagonist so much and what she questions about herself.

I love the writing in this book. The descriptions are so vivid and the characters so real. I love the old nursery rhymes Arsdale has created and how they form the core of the story. There are two opposing forces in this story, the Beast and the Shepherd. The Shepherd is representative of the good life and the Beast of the debauched and the sinful. Defaid, the village Alys moves to, is very pious about the Shepherd but these aren't good, kind hearted people. Meanwhile Alys has met the Beast and it was kind to her. The parallels you can draw with the church are hard to get away from but I don't think this is overly contentious to the point of Philip Pullman.

The author doesn't make judgements for you, Alys doesn't make judgements either. Alys observes and so you as the reader observe her world and you can very quickly make your own mind up about this oppressive village with its small minds.I love it when authors demonstrate any point in this way because it can only be achieved by good writing and an incredibly clear vision. My only point of contention with this book is that it feels like it wraps up quite quickly, but in a way I actually understand why Arsdale has done this. It depends how you view the message of the story. Whether you think this is a fantasy or a take on reality.

In a lot of ways, I think the whole story could be viewed as an extended metaphor for coping with loss and forgiving yourself, but you'll have to decide for yourself when you read it (and you should read it). Books such as this are ridiculously important for young readers because they contain such wonderful and vital values that we should be instilling the world over.

Thank you to the publishers and the bookbag for my review copy - and thank you to the author for writing an outstanding piece of work.

If you like the sound of this, pick up another thoroughly modern fairy tale The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black.

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Buy The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale at


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