Published by Razorbill
Published on 26 September 2017
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Source: my local library
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Packed with dark magic and thrilling action, Beasts Made of a Night is a gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy perfect for fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and Nnedi Okorafor.
In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.
Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.
When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.
Debut author Tochi Onyebuchi delivers an unforgettable fantasy adventure that powerfully explores the true meaning of justice and guilt.
The concept for this book is totally awesome. A Nigerian-inspired fantasy about young gifted people (‘aki’) who literally fight and Eat the sin summoned from others, absolving them and taking on the guilt themselves. That’s a show-stopping, rousing elevator pitch if ever I heard one.
Unfortunately, the concept is all this book has going for it.
The world building is amazing. I loved learning about the culture, customs, the food and the slang. I can practically taste the food and I have a very clear vision of what the city looks like.
But the book is beautifully wrapped up in a clunky narrative that is difficult to digest: not only are the secondary characters so underdeveloped they are little more than names on a page, Taj has all the consistency and interest of a wet paper bag. He doesn’t really have any personality beyond being a bit vain (he seems thoroughly invested in his hair) and having his head turned by every pretty girl who walks by – but he’s a teenage boy, so that’s relatable. He doesn’t have any goals, ambitions, or hurdles to overcome. He just kind of drifts through the novel like a the paper bag he is made out of, dragged to one scene and the next, often just an observer. This novel is sold as ‘high action’, but most of the time, Taj stands by, watching as someone else acts, or sits quietly while someone talks at him, not contributing anything or driving the plot forward with his actions, reactions or decisions. I think he’s supposed to fall in love with one of the characters, but I couldn’t tell you who it was, because it’s just that poorly written. There is nothing remotely romantic or emotional sustained for another character. Taj just seems to utterly obsess over whichever girl is closest to him (and the one that I think he’s supposed to be ‘in love with’ is far more interested in his sins than him as person). This lack of emotion and feeling shouldn’t be confusing: we do get to see the inside of Taj’s head, and we know he’s an emotional being. The sin-Eating forces him into a lot of introspection, mostly about how much it sucks that his fellow aki are abused by the mages and how awesome he is, but I don’t see enough of his inner thoughts connecting to the world outside his head.
I’m not even really sure what the plot is. It doesn’t even really kick in until about 80% of the novel, when Taj finally has a goal and a timeframe in which to achieve it. Which he doesn’t, by the way, and I’m struggling to remember why anyone needed Taj in the first place. He’s utterly useless as a character.
I should have realised this book was lacking when I first started listening to the audiobook. The writing was so awkward and fragmented that I found myself drifting, unable to pay attention and figure out what was really going on, that I stopped before I even reached 10% through and switched to the ebook version. While I was able to better grasp the narrative reading it as opposed to listening, I should have realised that this inability to figure out the plot was going to continue throughout the entire book: because there is no plot for the majority of the book. Taj just drifts along, and occasionally people show up to take him to a new place and tell him what his new job is. He may perform it or he may not. Characters pop up and disappear with little consistency or regard to the plot (what plot?). Sometimes people die, and that should be sad, but it’s not. Most of the other sin-eaters revere Taj because he’s one of the oldest in a role where kids die young, but the meaning of his nickname isn’t revealed until the last few chapters, so it makes it hard to understand both of those. Taj only seems to be special because the sin-spots on him don’t fade, but he’s apparently meant to have some other kind of gift I don’t want to spoil but which isn’t explained, he can just do something no one else can do all of a sudden. The sin-Eating isn’t even a bit part of Taj’s role: we see other aki do it more often than we see him do it. Maybe this book would have worked better in third person point of view.
Add in no way to sense the passing of time, and really, I could have done better than waste my time trying to finish this book. I feel that it may have been rushed to fulfil a demand for diverse YA fantasy, but it reads like a little-thought-out first draft, unable to engage in plot or interesting, developed characters. Maybe this could have been whipped into shape and come out sparkling: as it is, it’s little more than the promise of an interesting tale that just can’t deliver.