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The Beast Player

Review

The Beast Player

written by Nahoko Uehashi and translated by Cathy Hirano

Nahoko Uehashi brings her award winning fantasy novel to English speaking readers everywhere in the latest translation and release of THE BEAST PLAYER. Originally published in four parts, the epic story of Elin and her struggle to save the beasts she loves while also stopping the kingdom from tearing itself apart will captivate and delight fantasy readers of all ages.

 

Elin’s mother is a beast doctor who uses the silent whistle to control the fierce Toda, brutal water serpents used by the kingdom’s army. Tragedy takes Elin away from her family and the only land she’s ever known. Washed up and taken in by the kindness of a stranger, she is raised in an environment where learning is praised.

 

Naturally inquisitive and immersed in unlimited questions, Elin soon learns she can communicate with the royal beasts, enormous flying creatures revered by the kingdom and believed to be sent by the gods to protect the queen. But doing so goes against everything beast masters are taught, and discovery of her ability could bring destruction of everything she has ever loved. Will she become a pawn in the political machinations of warring factions within the kingdom? Or will she find a way to free them all?

 

Full of magic and rich with Japanese mythology, THE BEAST PLAYER is an unforgettable journey. We are introduced to Elin when she is 10-years-old, and from there we begin Elin’s quest to unravel the questions she has regarding the world around her. Even though this story is told in the third person, and we get other character POVs, we get such an intimate view of Elin that it’s impossible to not feel deeply connected with her throughout the book.

 

Uehashi does an excellent job maintaining Elin’s growth while keeping the mystery propelling the story forward. This is a coming-of-age novel, where Elin has to try and find her place in the world. She fights against what the world tells her is normal, wanting to follow her instincts instead. But, she also learns that doing so comes with heavy consequences. This is handled so well, raising the exact amount of doubt within both the character and the reader. I can see this book being a platform to launch extensive conversations with teens and readers.

 

More than just a story about a girl finding who she is, THE BEAST PLAYER tackles broader societal issues as well. As readers, we see this struggle through the queen and the men conspiring to control the kingdom all around her. We question the idea of doing what is always done, versus questioning the validity of these traditions and legends. I think Uehashi does a beautiful job showing how difficult and complex these decisions can be, along with the complicated nature of figuring out what is right or wrong in a world of shifting grey.

 

This is an incredibly empowering book for girls. Elin is such a wonderful role model. She doesn’t try to change based on what she thinks people want. Her motivations are articulated in her thoughts and actions, but are also based in genuinely wanting to do the right thing. She is careful and thoughtful, kind and pure. But beyond that, all the women in THE BEAST PLAYER are shown to be dynamic women. They think rationally, showing their strength in a multitude of ways. I think girls and women of all ages will find a character to identify with in these pages.

 

The end had me in tears! Not because it’s sad, but because the writing is so beautiful and captures the essence of love; it’s so pure and heartfelt and wonderful. This is a story fantasy lovers will cherish and that will stay relevant for years to come. I can see why this series is so popular in Japan and why Uehashi has won awards for writing it.

No matter how old, fantasy readers will fall in love with Elin, the royal beasts, and the magical world of THE BEAST PLAYER.

Reviewed by Jena Brown on March 19, 2019

The Beast Player
written by Nahoko Uehashi and translated by Cathy Hirano