So, you know when you’re in Waterstones and you go a little bit mad? Just before my birthday I was feeling stressed, and I ended up in the childrens/YA section of Waterstones Oxford, which is underground and feels a little bit like a fairy kingdom. I got somewhat carried away on the Buy One Get One Half Price, and took a gamble on some titles that looked super pretty, but I knew nothing about. I am so, so glad I picked up The Beast Player, as it’s definitely a new favourite, with many many rereads to come.
Book: The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi (tr. Cathy Hirano)
Read before: Never
Ownership: Bought about three weeks ago.
This book is absolutely stunning. I have no idea why it’s billed as a children’s book, when it could appeal to so many. It’s lyrical, beautiful and leisurely, but builds into a glorious political crescendo. The descriptions of everything are delicious, and the plot builds so naturally on the descriptions that I found myself completely lost in the story. Elin is a heroine in the vein of Daine (from the Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce), with a fierce need for knowledge about animals and a wonderful compassion for all life – I was particularly reminded of the griffin baby that Daine cares for.
Some may dismiss it as slow-paced or info-dumpy, but I think that the style was astonishingly unique (perhaps something to do with the fact that it is translated, but unlike other translated books I’ve read, there is no awkwardness of phrasing to jar you out of the story). Both author and translator have some magic in their words. Also astonishingly refreshing was the absence of romance – this is Elin’s story, and it focuses on her growth so naturally, with no shoe-horned in tropes to shape her to the mould of ‘heroine’.
The Beast Player has some major pluses for me even if you break it down to its bones: magic school; magic beasts; a determined, scholarly heroine; selfish decision making; a real sense of landscape; a gorgeously intricate political system. But the real magic in this book is just letting yourself be captivated by the sheer poetic flow of it, like a Royal Beast taking flight. Simply stunning. I can’t wait for the next book.
Five out of five beasts!