Title: Beasts Made of Night
Author: Tochi Onyebuchi
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Random House)
Source/Format: e-ARC from First to Read (DISCLAIMER: There may be some differences in the e-ARC from the final copy.)
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Balance is supposed to be the principle that governs us. Sin and sacrifice. Night and day. Death and life.
Seventeen-year old Taj is an aki. A sin-eater. And in the city of Kos–a society literally ruled by sin, or rather the lack thereof–this means he is fated to bear the sins of others; fated to endure a life of injustice in which he will always be looked down upon and used whenever those rich enough to afford it wish to be cleansed of their sins.
Sin-beasts are shadows, beasts made of the night. And an aki is like a ray of sunlight that comes down from the sky and shatters the sin, kills the shadows.
Even worse, being an aki isn’t something you can hide; it’s literally written all over you. Sins, after being summoned by Mages, manifest themselves as dark, inky beasts called inisisa. After the dangerous and painful process of defeating and then Eating them, the inisisa then appear as a tattoo on the aki’s body. For most, these markings disappear with time, but not for Taj. He has always had the same ones, as they have never faded.
It’s nonsense to think that I would ever be accepted here, or that someone like me could be treated with respect here. An aki’s duty is to Eat until they can’t Eat anymore. That’s what we’re here for. Sins are written on our bodies until the pain comes too much and we go mad.
Throughout Beasts Made of Night, we follow Taj as he makes his way through everyday life and soon discovers everything is not quite as it seems.
It’s funny because after finishing Strange the Dreamer only a couple of months ago, I was sure it would be years before I found another fantasy world as original and entrancing as Strange‘s was, but Beasts Made of Night is quite the contender! Thank you First to Read both for existing and for accepting my request to read this wonderful book!
I had previously added Beasts on my Goodreads, but going into it all I could remember was it being “a gritty, Nigerian-inspired fantasy story” and it having both an intriguing title and cover.
Luckily, I was immediately so drawn by the vivid imagery and the uniqueness of Taj’s world. Seriously, the world-building is top-notch and entirely refreshing for the YA fantasy genre. There’s so much to learn, so much culture and history.
I was entirely fascinated by how Kos’s society operates, by valuing purity and shunning those who not only commit sins but also the innocent ones who merely carry the sins of others with them.
I would think the people would worship the aki for taking on the burden of others’ sins–I mean, without the aki, many would not be able to enter Infinity after death, as only those whom remain pure of sin may do so–but it was also very believable that they were treated so terribly.
Sadly, some people will always discriminate against those who are different in any way; some people will always fear what they don’t know. Furthermore, in Taj’s world, aki are walking reminders of what many can never have–many cannot afford to be absolved of their sins.
Of course, one could argue that people should not commit sins in the first place. But how realistic is that? If our world worked the way Taj’s did, we’d all be in trouble. Anyway, the fact that I could go on and have a full-on discussion about this shows how many layers there are to this book. And that’s great; as much as I love the fantasy genre, I can’t relate to magic and all of the other fantastical elements–I can appreciate and enjoy them but not relate–so that’s where the politics and real life conflict come into play.
The only downfall to this otherwise completely wonderful and original debut was how messy it felt. I saw someone say it felt more like a rough draft and I can sort of agree with that. For a debut, Onyebuchi did an impressive job and got a lot right with the premise and world-building, but there also were a few fundamental elements that needed work. The characters were underdeveloped, and though I liked Taj and was able to connect with him for the most part–much more so than I’ve been able to with Sal from Mask of Shadows–his character didn’t feel consistent. There were a lot of moments when he came across as immature when we’ve been told he had to grow up quickly to stay alive and is supposedly the most talented of all the aki. He also became googly-eyed and starstruck the minute he met the Princess of Kos which was really off-putting, as any shape or form of instalove is my biggest pet peeve.
A bit more than halfway in, I also sort of grew tired of Taj and the fact that I kept waiting for the plot to reveal itself. He simply kept getting moved from place to place and nothing was really happening.
Other than that, I felt like the pacing was a bit odd at some points. The whole ending for example happened way too quickly and was extremely messy…
Overall, I enjoyed the first half deeply, as I was happy to take my time and fully immerse myself in Taj’s world, but it did get to a point where I was ready for bigger and better things that were never really delivered. I’m okay with that for now though. It sounds like I have a lot of complaints, but really I’m so glad to have read Beasts Made of Night and eagerly await news of a possible sequel! I can definitely overlook most of my small issues for the unique world-building and story being told. Maybe a 3.5- or 4-star rating would be more appropriate, but I really want this book to succeed as I think the author could easily fix some of these issues in a sequel, or hey, maybe some will be fixed before the book’s late October release date? Only time will tell once I receive my finished copy!
In conclusion, please give us more fantasy stories inspired by different cultures, authors and publishers! We need more unique worlds like this one to explore!
Thanks for reading!