Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

9780448493909_BeastNight_HC_JK_CvLib.inddThis was a lot better than I expected, but still not as good as it could have been.

Beasts Made of Night is the first book in a fantasy duology set in a magical world inspired by Nigeria. It follows Taj, a boy who is paid by the royal family to eat their sins (of which he bears the signs in the form of animal tattoos) as he gets involved in court intrigue.

The thing I liked the most about this book was the worldbuilding. I rarely find YA fantasy books whose world doesn’t feel generic or underdeveloped, and this is one of them. Here you’ll find mythology, magic, vivid descriptions of the food, of the sounds and the smells of the city.
I loved the way magic was incorporated into this world. It’s not just sin-eating: there are also magical stones one can get addicted to, there are almost steampunk-like aspects to the fantasy technology, and it’s implied that the magic itself is tied both to math and to the Islam-inspired religion.
Through the worldbuilding Beasts Made of Night also explores class privilege: the sin-eaters are poor – because they’re discriminated – but at the same time necessary for the royals, because they have to eat the royals’ sins. Sin-eating isn’t just something that happens in this world: it has political, religious and cultural implications.

Beasts Made of Night is a book full of ideas, but unfortunately, the execution often fell short. I think this novel needed more editing, or maybe less of it – I’m not sure. It felt both like a first draft, because sometimes the motivations of the characters were lacking or barely there, and like something that was taken apart and then put together again with some scenes missing.
What completely didn’t work about this book was the pacing. The first half is slow-moving, but during the second half there’s absolutely no sense of the passage of time. How much time did the second half take? Weeks, months? I have no idea. It felt like a blur, something made up of scenes stitched together without any cohesion.

I liked Taj as a main character. He’s protective of the younger Aki, criticizes the royals, is somewhat vain, and falls a bit for every female character he meets. He felt like a real teenage boy. By the end of the book, however, I realized that no one in this book actually had a coherent character arc. Especially not the side characters, whose motivations didn’t make sense.
My two main problems with the side characters were:

🐺 There were many of them, and they kept going in and out of the story. Most of the side characters were “important” for a certain part of the story, then disappeared completely, and reappeared near the end.
🐺 Many of them were women. While I liked that there were many relevant female characters, they didn’t feel like real teenage girls, not in the way Taj felt like a real teenager. They always gave me that “written by a man” feeling I can’t really describe.

This was especially glaring for the princess, because this book has something that feels very much like a bad case of instalove, even though the characters do not even seem to be in love. They’re just really obsessed with each other, to the point that it gets weird. I usually can understand insta-attraction/insta-lust and relationships that develop quickly, but here, I didn’t even get why the princess even marginally cared about Taj. None of the princess’ motivations made sense, really. No, not even after the ending.

I liked reading Beasts Made of Night and I liked what it was trying to do, but many aspects of it ended up being disappointing, so I won’t be reading the sequel.

My rating: ★★★¼