Morgan will update this page with occasional news items about Darkbeast.
9/2012: Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books loves Darkbeast!
Each child born in Duodecia is bound to a darkbeast, a creature that takes away their so-called bad emotions, like anger and fear, and helps them obey and mature. Unlike other children, however, Keara has come to love her darkbeast, Caw, and when she is instructed to kill the raven on her twelfth nameday (children must slay their darkbeasts as a rite of passage), Keara refuses and flees her family home. That act of rebellion has the Inquisitors hot on her trail, but she manages to find refuge by disguising herself among a group of traveling actors; unfortunately, when the troupe puts on a controversial play, Keara once again must escape with Kaw. The book’s unusual premise is sure to draw readers, and the intriguing, medieval-esque world with just a touch of magic will both entrance fans of fantasy and satisfy those who prefer their stories more grounded in reality. Keara’s dilemma will feel familiar to readers who have struggled to hold onto the security of childhood, who have failed to meet the expectations of grownups, or who are bewildered by the actions of people they trust—in other words, everyone. The plot suffers from a few logical missteps, particularly in the seemingly wise troupe leader’s continuous stoking of the Inquisitors’ ire, but mostly this is a thoughtful, magical tale with a message that kids on the cusp of adulthood will find comforting.
8/28/2012: Darkbeast is in stores!
Darkbeast is available in bricks-and-mortar and online stores. If your store doesn’t have it in stock, they’ll be happy to order it for you. And once you’ve read it, please consider posting an honest review online to spread the word to other readers!
7/2012: The Horn Book Praises Darkbeast!
In Duodecia, every child under the age of twelve has a darkbeast, a creature who takes the child’s faults—anger, jealousy, pride—on themselves. Most children can’t stand the toads, snakes, bats, etc., that relieve them of their negative emotions, but Keara loves her raven Caw so much so that she refuses to kill him on her twelfth name day, as custom demands. In fear of the Primate’s Inquisitors, she runs away with Caw and joins the Travelers, a band of migratory thespians. Keara passionately wants to help them win the year-end dramatic competition performed for the Primate, but will the Inquisitors find out about her and Caw first? Carefully chosen images and rich language set the tone for Keyes’s unique society, ably sketched through references to familiar customs and proprieties whose meaning can be intuited by readers. Choices made by the well-rounded characters credibly advance the story’s action, and a surprise revelation at the end opens the door to sequels. In addition, questions raised by the concept of darkbeasts—what role do our dark sides play in creativity? how much of our childhood should we be asked to sacrifice in order to grow up?—will leave readers mulling thoughtfully long after the book is closed.
7/9/2012: Publishers Weekly Raves About Darkbeast!
In Keyes’s fable of conscience and loyalty, Poe’s Raven, Collodi’s Talking Cricket, and Pullman’s Pantalaimon are adeptly distilled into Caw, the raven familiar, or darkbeast, of 12-year-old Keara. Every child in Duodecia grows up being told “Take it to your darkbeast.” All petty sins, bad intentions, and rebellious thoughts, properly confessed to the darkbeast, are taken away, so that a child is ready to become a good adult on his or her 12th nameday. On that day, the darkbeast is ritually sacrificed by the child whose sins it has cleansed. But Caw has been Keara’s constant companion during a lonely childhood: talking with her, watching over her, begging shamelessly for treats. Not to kill the darkbeast is heresy, punishable by the Inquisitors. Can Keara leave her village, elude the Inquisitors, and survive on the road? Perhaps—if she can persuade a band of traveling players to take her on. It’s a well-wrought tale that finds that difficult balance between accessibility and depth; Keyes talks to young readers without talking down.
6/20/2012: Kirkus Reviews Loves Darkbeast!
Life in Keara’s world is determined by adherence to strictures unchanged through generations. Yearly tithes must be paid and marked by indelible wrist tattoos. The gods must be honored, and the Primate must be obeyed, all under the eyes of powerful Inquisitors. But most fearsome of all for Keara is the unbreakable rule demanding that children reaching the age of 12 must kill their darkbeasts in order to prepare for adulthood. The raven Caw has been Keara’s darkbeast, her constant companion and dearest friend, whose function has been to take upon himself all her faults and negative emotions. Keara rebels, takes Caw and joins the Travelers, a group of actors who put on proscribed, unchanging plays about the gods and allowable new plays about ordinary folk. Challenges and adventures abound, but Keara is strong-willed and feisty and always has Caw’s support, conveyed in intense telepathic dialogue. Keyes employs vaguely antique language to describe a richly imagined universe that has elements of the biblical and the medieval mixed with Greco-Roman-influenced mythology. Keara narrates her own story, allowing supporting characters to become more complex as her understanding expands with maturity. She is not alone in her rebellion. There are lots of loose ends and unresolved relationships and a rather obvious hint at a possible sequel. Tightly woven and carefully constructed fantasy.