I want to talk about this book already so perhaps we can skip the introduction? If you feel desperate for one, please play the Full House opening and be satisfied.
Thank you so much Penguin Teen for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review!
TW/CW according to the author: Physical/Verbal Abuse (Minor) Blood (Minor), Bodies/Corpses (On Page), Bones, Death/Dying (Referenced; On Page), Drug Use (Referenced; On Page), Forced Captivity/Kidnapping, Murder (Referenced), Sexism/Misogyny/Toxic Masculinity, Sexual Content (Mild), Slavery/Indentured Servitude, Spiders, Violence (Mild)
There’s no such thing as magic in this world. Koffi is a girl who’s indentured to a place called the Night Zoo, but after an incident that ruins everything she and her mother have worked for, Koffi is forced to strike a deal for her freedom. The catch? She needs to find the most dangerous creature known to mankind: the Shetani.
Ekon is practically destined to become a Son of the Six, a great warrior. On the night of his final test, he makes a choice that ruins everything. The only way to redeem himself, Ekon discovers, is to hunt down and kill the famed Shetani.
Koffi and Ekon team up to infiltrate the terribly dangerous Greater Jungle to find the Shetani and earn their freedom, both keeping their true motives secret from the other. However, there’s more to this world than meets the eye.
Debuts are so difficult to discuss. Actually, books in general are difficult to discuss but I digress. Beasts of Prey is one of the most incredible debuts I’ve ever read. The worldbuilding is expertly entwined with African folklore, the plot is a complex web of shocking twists, and the characters are richly imagined. Like how are people this talented???
Beasts of Prey takes place in a world where magic is gone. Yet, we still see sparks of it everywhere. When Koffi and Ekon go into the Greater Jungle, there are so many creatures based off of African folklore running around. They’re terrifying and unique and I had the greatest time just being scared for Ekon and Koffi*. For example, the grootslang is an elephant and a snake combined, and it’s just such a cool creature that I’ve never really come across in literature before. Truly, this world is so rich and brimming with atmosphere and imagery that I fell in love with the setting almost immediately.
*that’s what some might call immersion but what i like to call getting too attached
The funny thing about these characters is that I wasn’t too sold on them at first. Koffi annoyed me at first, but after experiencing the growth of her character arc she’s at least tolerable to me now. I was nervous about Ekon being a basic male YA lead, but his character arc is actually enthralling. He deals with anxiety and what I think is OCD (never explicitly called that on-page however). His complex relationship with his brother and his feelings towards his father were both definitive highlights of the book for me. On the other hand, both characters made some um…questionable decisions at times. You know, the kind of decisions teens in a horror movie make? Where you’re yelling at the screen and simultaneously feeling your soul die? Anyways, I really adored their dynamic together, interesting judgment choices aside. Oh, and we also get a third character perspective occasionally that confused me…until one particular plot twist hit.
Speaking of twists, I am seriously surprised that this is a debut. Ayana Gray has crafted a thrilling, rich story with the talent of a master author. Unfortunately, it can become a bit too easy to predict where a story is going to go. I guessed virtually nothing until the reveal was within 30 pages. The last half of this book becomes a whirlwind of high stakes, shocking character revelations, and tense encounters. Like, I can already tell that this is the set-up for the next big YA series!
Beasts of Prey reminded me a lot of We Hunt The Flame with the jungle, the quest, and the banter. I also love how both are diverse reads that incorporate different real-life cultures into a fantasy world. I would 100% recommend this book for fans of Hafsah Faizal’s duology.
My only major qualm with this book is the romance. I don’t really understand the concept of having the two characters in a romance in the first book of a series. I’d much rather have the characters in a relationship that develops over time, personally.
Overall, this was a really solid debut. While I do think that some moments were a little bit too heavy on the generic YA fantasy train, and the romance was far too rushed for my tastes, I would honestly consider this to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s a story that packs a powerful punch, and perfectly satisfies the YA fantasy craving. This is an easy 4.5/5 stars! Are you anticipating this one?