Firstly I offer this disclaimer: I am a terrible reviewer.
If I don’t like a book I don’t write about it, because I know how hard people work to make books and I know that there will be an audience for every book even if I don’t like it. If I do like a book, I sometimes don’t write about it because I don’t have time or the words. And then there are books I gush about like a school-girl with a crush. Like I said, I’m a terrible reviewer. I will not be objective. All I will be is a book-nerd gushing about something. If you’re okay with that, read on.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen. This book will not leave my head. I love books that give you real-deal visceral feelings when you read them and this one did that. It’s not often that a book paints pictures so vivid that I’m still seeing scenes from the story days after I’ve set the book down but this one did. When I finished it I did that staring-into-space-struggling-to-leave-the-world-of-the-book thing that us readers often do. It took a good length of time before I could fully leave that world. You know what I mean, don’t you, Readers?
It’s a middle-grade/children’s story about Sarah, a young girl whose parents have moved around a lot and never really explained why. Then her mom leaves and her dad starts acting strange – so strange that he takes her to go and live with grandparents she’s never met, in a creepy, half-ruined castle. She uncovers some pretty messed up secrets about her family there – secrets full of magic and curses. It’s a modern take on fairy tales, as wild as the wood it is set in.
The story has a Neil Gaimain-esque quality about it, specifically Neil’s Ocean at the end of the lane, which made me love it even more. I can’t say exactly how it reminds me of that work (terrible reviewer, remember) but it evokes a similar feeling. Only… I think Beastkeeper is better. Maybe I’m biased. Or delusional. Or right. (Sorry, Neil)
The plot is intriguing enough but it’s Hellisen’s writing that won me. Her prose is enchanting. Her characterisation, spot on – Sarah’s middle grade voice is so sincere that you feel awful when she is thrown into impossible, horrible situations. I have nothing bad to say about the book. I would only caution sensitive young readers that sometimes the book can be a little scary. It’s certainly not a story for the faint-hearted!
What I love most – and this might irritate some – is that, a third of the way through the book the character is thrust headlong into a magical world. Up until then, there were only faint and subtle allusions to magic and strangeness. But when Sarah is taken away the extent of the magic is like the shock of icy water on your face. Up until this point the book feels almost like magical realism and then, suddenly, it is full-on fantasy-fairytale. It’s a shocking transition that puts you directly into Sarah’s shoes and how she must have felt. I loved being thrown into that extraordinary world.
I will say this: the adult characters are cowards. They make terrible choices and are bent on revenge but somehow Sarah sees a better way and I am very glad she does. I love this girl’s determination and tenacity. It’s beautiful!
So basically, I love this book. I love it as much as I love Patrick Rothfuss’s A Slow Regard of Silent Things (another of my surprise favourites for this year). And though I know it does no good to compare myself to other writers, when I compare myself to these two I want to punch myself in the face and put down my pen forever. Just a little.
But no. A writer is merely a reader moved to emulation, right? I’m getting back to work.
P.S If you want to find out what else I’m reading, you can follow me on Instagram.