Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

 Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston, Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins), 9780062847362, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  Cerys and her father live in the halcyon kingdom of Aloriya, serving as gardeners to the magical royal family. She harbors guilt over a childhood misadventure that cost the lives of her mother and two companions, one, the crown prince. At the coronation of the new queen (Cerys’ BFF Wen), monsters burst forth from the dark woods and corrupt the population, turning them into shambling and bloodthirsty bone-eaters. The girl escapes, accompanied by a fox companion, and begins a quest for the magical city of Voryn and the Lady of the Wilds, her only hope to restore balance to her world. Poston has created a vivid and frightening fantasy setting with lots of high stakes battles and eerie mysteries to untangle. Spoiler alert: the fox turns out to be the missing prince, and the most interesting parts of the story are the blossoming romance between the two main characters and their existential battles over identity. What will Fox sacrifice to win Cerys (whom he calls Daisy)? Is a gardener’s daughter brave enough to save the kingdom? I did appreciate the fact that the story seemed to be confined to one volume, although Poston alludes to a future adventure centered on Seren, an undead warrior. All the main characters are described as having fair skin, light-colored hair and freckles, although once the duo reaches Voryn, a lady knight is described as having dark skin. A hint at an LGBTQ romance between two secondary characters closes the story.

Anything you didn’t like about it? The action elements overwhelmed the world-building. Poston does an excellent job of getting pulses racing, but the questions of why events are unfolding, the lineage of the various principals, and where the magic comes from remain unanswered. Although I enjoyed the occasional contemporary turn of phrase or modern perspectives she dropped into the narrative, I found the bizarre inclusion of profanity (the f word and sh-t) off-putting. This seemed like a gratuitous nod to older teen readers, but I thought imaginary oaths that fit the fantasy would have worked better.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens who want an entry-level fantasy with lots of action but light on mythology.  It is on the short side for fantasy novels (about 300 pages) and has a very handsome cover.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA, fantasy if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: March 4, 2021

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