Title: The Beast Is an Animal
Author: Peternelle van Arsdale
Genre: Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Date Published: February 28th, 2017
Page Count: 352
Source: Author Website
“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.”
Initially I thought The Beast Is an Animal was going to be a little bit more action packed, but alas, this was a slow burner story. Nothing wrong with slow burner books! I actually quite enough them if the story intrigues me enough and this one surely did! For me personally this book was not that slow. In some aspects it was, but this was mainly due to the time period and setting.
You can guess that this story was set during the time period of puritans and witches. The way that Alys and the other characters lived was simple and unrefined. The people of Gwenith and Defaid (and many other villages) followed the rules of the “Good Shepherd” (which in this story’s case was their God) and they feared “the Beast” (which was their Devil). They were always under the thumb of the High Elders (which were obviously priest) and these Elders controlled the town by spewing the word of the Good Shepherd. So, of course, these people were scared of anything resembling witches or “soul eaters.” They always lived in constant fear of the Beast and its “mark.” If you had the mark of The Beast they would condemn or kill you.
The story opens up to two young twins, Angelica and Benedicta, both marked by the Beast. The town of Gwenith then forces their father to banish their mother and the girls to the fforest (yes, it is spelled like this in the book). The villagers fear plight and the Beast, so they believe this is the only way to save themselves. The father chooses to abandon his wife and twin daughters, saying he would come back for them eventually. And at first he does, until more and more time passes. He stops coming all together as the years continue on. As Angelica and Benedicta grow up from toddlers to young girls they become wild and unkempt like the fforest they live in. Soon they realize they are different and the abandonment of their father/village dwells within them, taking root into something unnatural. Their mother dies after some time and this pushes them to the edge of restlessness. They only had each other to rely on after that.
Then one day the girls found themselves drawing near the village of Gwenith. They headed towards their father’s farm. They waited until dark approached and decided to let all of their father’s livestock out. The wolves did the rest. They did this to all the villagers residing in Gwenith. After the village grew quiet again Angelica and Benedicta made their way back home in the fforest. The next morning the girls caught a whiff of fear and they knew the villagers had found the aftermath. They decided to pay their father a visit. They found him in a field, almost ready to be devoured. He let out a gasp of shock only to be eaten by the older sister. The girls knocked on their father’s house door and a ruddy-faced women answered. The women’s soul was spread out as if it were on a dinner table and it invited the younger sister to eat her up. And that’s exactly what she did. As Angelica and Benedicta moved onto the rest of the village they came across a small girl in the darkness of a field. She wasn’t like her father or mother, she did not fear the sisters when they set their gaze upon her. So the two sisters decided to leave this child unclaimed-they would not claim any children.
This is when the story truly begins.
Alys is found by a traveler named Pawl and they soon come to find out that all the adults in the village of Gwenith are dead. The children have been put under some kind of sleeping spell and need to be forced to awaken. They decided to leave all small children and infants asleep until they can move them to the next town. This is when Pawl takes Alys to Defaid, the neighboring village next to Gwenith (even though it’s like 2 to 3 days away). Alys forms a small attachment to Pawl along the way and wants him to take her to the Lakes. Of course Pawl ends up leaving her in Defaid (but they meet again throughout Alys’s growing up).
Enter the High Elders, (who think everything is the work of the Beast and they must be saved by the Good Shepherd). These villagers end up taking Alys and the rest of the children of Gwenith in. I am sure most of you can imagine what these villagers are like. Religious, fearful, unpretentious, and their only concern is safety for themselves. So, the children of Gwenith are almost shunned in a way (if you can catch my drift). You can say they are looked down upon.
It wasn’t long before the people of Defaid decided they need to protect their village against the Beast. They decide to built the Gate after speculating that Gwenith lost the protection of the Good Shepherd. They build a very large triangle shaped gate with only one way in or out. The Gate was about 20 feet high and had three watchtowers at each corner. But who would watch the Gate at night? Surely not the good people of Defaid. It was then decide the children of Gwenith would patrol the Gate all night since they had become a burden on Defaid. Alys was included in this decision. But this great Gate would be the tomb that engulfs Defaid in the end.
From age 7 to 11, Alys patrolled the Gate of Defaid, almost dying once in the process. The story then progress to her being 15, all the while many children of Gwenith are lured away and go missing. This was the work of Angelica and Benedicta…the soul eaters. The sisters fed upon the fear of Defaid and did so without remorse. Alys is eventually captured and branded as a witch by the people of Defaid. She is put on trial by the High Elders and her fate would be decided later on. Alys’s “stand in” father rescues her in the middle of the night and she escapes back to Gwenith. This is where she is found by Pawl, his wife Beti and a handsome young man named Cian. (They meet in the village another time before all of this happens as well. Pawl travels to Defaid more often than naught).
In between growing from a small child to a young adult, Alys meets the Beast several times. He is a great creature of the fforest who is intimidating yet almost regal. Alys feels her connection to him and also the twins. the Beast also informs Alys of a great hole that is forming in the middle of Byd (enter protagonist conflict now). This is the cause of Angelica and Benedicta eating people’s souls. Alys is the only one who can stop the world from being swallowed by the hole. Alys knows she is like Angelica and Benedicta but denies it to no end. It is only towards the end of the story that Alys comes to terms with also being a soul eater.
I would like to write what happens at the end of the story but I don’t want to spoil the ending! I know some of you can pick up on some of the clues I left in this summary.
I really enjoyed this story because of the way Arsdale mixed in realism and fantasy. I feel like this story gravitates more towards dark fantasy and horror (due to the nature of deaths and depiction of the twins at the end of the book). So if you get scared easily this book may not be for you! Horror is one of my favorite genres so of course I enjoyed this book. (I think I am sick and twisted in the head sometimes). I have to compliment Arsdale in the way she wrote about Alys and her constant inner struggle. Alys had to figure out if she was good or evil, and this was complex because Alys dealt with so much at such a young age. She wanted to be good but she also knew that she was a soul eater deep down. She was so much like Angelica and Benedicta and yet so vastly different. You will definitely understand this concept if you read this book. I really gravitate towards characters that have a sense of duty/justice but it is hard for them to act upon it. People face this everyday of their lives and it’s a lot harder than people realize.
My only complaint is I wish we got to see more of the Beast and the twins! I loved the scenes with the Beast. They were so magical and whimsical and intriguing that I wanted to know more about it. I thought it would have been neat to see more of Angelica and Benedicta’s soul eating scenes. Arsdale gave us enough but it was almost borderline not enough. It was a tease! These girls were so haunting and vexing that I wanted to know what they did in the middle of the night when everyone else was asleep. GIVE ME MORE! (Man….I am super greedy sometimes :P)
I am going to leave you guys with the old Byd nursery rhyme:
“The Beast is an animal
You’d better lock the Gate
or when it’s dark, It comes for you
The it will be too late
The Beast is an animal
Hear It scratch upon your door
It sucks your soul then licks the bowl
And sniffs around for more
The Beast is an animal
It has a pointy chin
It eats you while you sleep at night
Leaves nothing but your skin”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
From the author’s site:
“I’m a book editor turned young adult novelist. I still love to edit, but I’ve discovered that I like to make up my own stories even more than I like to fix other people’s. It’s less stressful. Also, I’m controlling, and I pretty much get to say what goes in the worlds that I create. I live in New York City, where I own a Metrocard and drive as little as possible. I have perfect control over my feet.”
If you would like to purchase The Beast Is an Animal then click here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-beast-is-an-animal-peternelle-van-arsdale/1123861923?ean=9781481488419.