Among the Beasts and Briars by Ashley Poston
Happy New Year! What a good feeling to say goodbye to the garbage year that was 2020 and welcome in a (hopefully) brighter new year. I decided to ring in the new year with a little magic, and picked up this fun fairytale.
It’s said that Aloriya was gifted a magical crown to save them from the darkness of the Woods. That story is a lie. A girl touched by the Wood and her fox companion are the last hope for a city cursed by an ancient evil lurking in the Woods.
I saw this book described by School Library Journal as Naomi Novik’s Uprooted for a younger audience, and I totally agree. I thought this was fun, fast-paced, a little dark, and quietly romantic. There are certainly some aspects I did not enjoy, but it was a solid offering that I can see having broad appeal with young teens.
The story alternates perspectives between Cerys, a gardener’s daughter with a secret, mysterious magic, and the fox who spends his days following her around. Cerys is a strong girl, a fierce friend, and a loving and accepting daughter. Queer relationships seem to be the norm in this world, and are offered without commentary which always brings me joy. I love to see characters like this, who find strength in their relationships and are willing to face their fears in service of others. She’s strong and brave and relatable, especially to younger audiences. When the woodcurse comes to her town and turns everyone she loves into dark creatures, she journeys into the Woods herself, battles dark magic, and makes the dangerous journey to a secret city in the Woods in order to save her friends and family.
Fox is a plucky, mischievous character who goes through a few transitions throughout the book. I think his personal growth in the story was a little stunted, but he was still fun to follow along through the woods and try to uncover the mystery of his background. In my opinion, the twist in the story was very predictable, but it may have a better impact for teen readers. I do read a lot of fantasy, so it takes a lot to surprise me at this point! I also did not love the romance between Fox and Cerys. It felt a little strange and accepted too quickly, but I do appreciate that they became friends first before moving towards romantic feelings.
Overall, I found this to be an original fairytale with compelling magic and some spine-tingling moments. Recommended for YA fans, and definitely suitable for younger, middle school readers.
Have you read this one yet? What’d you think? It looks like the story will continue in a future book following a secondary character, so there is more to enjoy.