Darkbeast

 
(i)

 

Richly imagined dystopian fantasy fine for preteens.

What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

Positive messages

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

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.

Sex
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
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.

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.

Kids say

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What's the story?

In the fantasy world of DARKBEAST, children are magically and psychically bonded with animals as infants -- and then, on their 12th birthday, must kill their companions as a rite of passage to adulthood. Unlike most kids, heroine Keara loves her darkbeast, a raven, and can't bring herself to go through with the ritual. She joins a traveling company of actors and tries to earn a place among them while hiding from the harsh punishment of the Inquisitors. Her choice to save her darkbeast will change her life forever, and quite possibly the lives of everyone around her, too.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

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. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why fantasy novels are so popular. What do you enjoy most about books with fantasy elements?

  • Do you wish you had a darkbeast that could solve your problems for you? Would that help you really solve them? Do you have someone you can talk to about your problems?

  • Keara suspects the darkbeast tradition works well for society mostly because people believe it works. What would happen in her world if people stopped believing in it?

Book details

Author:Morgan Keyes
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Brothers and sisters, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Margaret K. McElderry
Publication date:September 28, 2012
Number of pages:280
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Darkbeast was written by

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byeisho December 16, 2013
 

Darkbeast rules

It is amazing!! When I got it, I thought I was gonna hate it, but I loved it!! I say everyone should read it!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

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