In a world where every child is bound at birth to a darkbeast – a creature that will take their faults through childhood, before being ritually killed – Keara is preparing to leave her childhood behind. But Caw, her darkbeast and her oldest friend, will not be an easy sacrifice to make.
Keara was a really great protagonist, and she – and the relationships she formed throughout the story – were by far the best things about Darkbeast. The book is structured around the different flaws that she’s (tried to) offer to her darkbeast, but those flaws are also her strength, making her feel incredibly realistic. Individually, Caw was less developed, but Keara’s affection for him was clear, even though she spent much of the book trying to hide it. I also really enjoyed her friendship with Vala (and, to a lesser extent, Goran), although I didn’t always like her that much – and their contrasting views made for some interesting plot developments.
The defining trait of this world is its strict religious society, which was interesting. Unfortunately we’re not shown much about the belief system beyond the darkbeast tradition, but the role of the Inquisitors, who find and punish the Lost (those who go against religious tradition), was given some emphasis, lending the book an almost dystopian air – and when they appeared in the story, Keyes did a good job of making their presence genuinely threatening. As much of the story takes place in the midst of a travelling troupe that performs religious plays, there were a lot of opportunities to expand upon the history and mythology of this world that could have made it feel a lot more real and fleshed out, but these were sadly missed.
The plot was mostly focused on Keara’s life with the Travelers, which I enjoyed, but I didn’t find myself particularly invested in what looks like it’s going to be the series’ overarching storyline; either about finding a place where darkbeasts don’t have to die, or else social and religious reform… Probably the latter, since the sequel is called Rebellion, but I don’t know if I’ll be sticking around to find out.
Although on the whole Darkbeast didn’t really resonate with me, I do think it’s a good book, and reading it made for an enjoyable few hours. I didn’t feel that it was quite up to the same standard as, say, Tamora Pierce’s books (which I found myself comparing this to as I read), but it will likely appeal to a similar fanbase, and to the younger part of that fanbase in particular.