A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
In a fantasy setting that resembles European village life at any time from the Middle Ages to just before the Industrial Revolution, kids will learn a few facts about the era, e.g. that bread was baked in a communal oven, and herbs and plants were used medicinally.
There's a strong message that becoming an adult means taking responsibility for your actions and coping with feelings on your own. Also that following your society's rules makes you feel safe, but that some cultural and religious systems work because people believe they work, and become self-perpetuating if they aren't questioned.
Positive Role Models
Keara, the 12-year-old heroine, struggles to overcome her rebelliousness and jealousy. She works hard and doesn't want to hurt anyone, but tries to solve her problem by running away. She's very attached to and protective of her darkbeast, in contrast to most other children in this fantasy world. Her friends Vala and Goran model a typical brother-sister relationship. Adults like Keara's mom and troupe leader Taggart are hard to understand and emotionally distant, but both are protective, responsible, and want what's best for their families.
Violence & Scariness
One or two incidents of mild violence are described, including bleeding from the palm after a fall, a slap in the face, being kneed in the back, and being briefly tied up. A few other violent or scary things are only hinted at, such as the Inquisitors using chains and knives to steer people who have strayed back to the right path. A central theme is the rite of passage all children undergo when they turn 12 and become adults: They have to kill their darkbeasts, telepathic animals that have been their constant companions from infancy. This killing's done ceremoniously behind closed doors and not depicted, but after one such ceremony the dead darkbeast's head is described as a "mash of red." A darkbeast's body is burned, but it's not described in detail.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Wine's mentioned once as a possible supply for traveling, but no one's depicted drinking and the characters involved bring water instead.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's not much to worry about in Darkbeast. Although a central theme is the ritual slaying of children's companion animals when the kids reach adulthood at age 12, no slaying is described. The Inquisitors are scary enforcers, and it's hinted that they use torture, but again, not described. Wine is mentioned once but no one's shown drinking it. Twelve-year-old heroine Keara still has a lot of lessons to learn, but she's a good, hardworking, loyal kid, and her character struggles set everything up nicely for the follow-up, Darkbeast Rebellion.
Is It Any Good?
Author Morgan Keyes creates a richly imagined, fully realized story. The dystopian elements of a central government with powerful oversight of individuals' lives provide a solid backdrop for the building tension, adding interest and realism to a world where kids talk to animals. There's a lot left unresolved at the end, no doubt to leave room for future installments, but this does prevent Darkbeast from standing solidly on its own.
Keara is believable and relatable. Kids will empathize with her as she's torn between wanting to become an adult and wanting to hold on to her childhood; the wide-open ending should leave them excited for the next installment.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.