Ekon is training to be a warrior as part of the Sons of the Six, and it is his only goal. The final ceremony/challenge that would lead to his inclusion is interrupted by a fire at the Night Zoo, and when he and the others go to help, he runs into Koffi and the Shetani, a wild beast who lives in the magical woods and is known to kill everyone it encounters. When Koffi tells the Shetani to leave and it obeys, Ekon is too surprised to capture her, and letting an indentured servant flee is a crime that he pays for with his expulsion from the Sons of the Six.
Both of them know that hunting the Shetani can help them reach the goals they most desire, and so, they agree to work together on a dangerous journey through the magical jungle - a journey that none are known to have survived.
What I loved: The world-building here is phenomenal, and I loved the descriptions of the past, the mythology/history, the jungle and its dangers, as well as the religion of the area. The writing is lush, maintaining a quick pace with the right amount of context and descriptors. The characters were also compelling, and I appreciated the insights from the past (Adiah) as well as the brunt of the story from the present to see how things were and how they have changed. This plot is full of action/adventure in a jungle full of peril, and it was fascinating to see their journey and how they connect and what they learn along the way. The main characters were really compelling, and it's impossible not to cheer for both Ekon and Koffi, despite that their goals may not be aligned. In places, it's a real nail-biter with wanting to know what happens next and worrying over missteps. This is a riveting read that keeps the reader hooked.
There are a lot of themes that make this a great book for discussion, including politics, religion, groupings of people, wealth disparity, misunderstanding animals, environmentalism, friendship, family, single-minded goals, mental illness/anxiety, and debt/indentured servitude. This story was really thought-provoking, and there is a lot to unpack and consider, making it quite the powerful read.
Final verdict: With lush world-building, compelling characters, and a riveting plot, BEASTS OF PREY is an atmospheric and imaginative YA fantasy/adventure that will keep the reader on their toes. Highly recommend for fans of KINGDOM OF SOULS, THE TIGER AT MIDNIGHT, and AN EMBER IN THE ASHES.