Author: Tochi Onyebuchi
Series: Beasts Made of Night #1
First Published: October 31, 2017
Genres: High Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: ARC, eBook
Source: Penguin First to Read
In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts—lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.
Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.
When Taj is called to eat a sin of a member of the royal family, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves—and his own life.
I feel like such an asshole for not liking this book. The premise for this novel is so good and I was excited to pick it up. The book follows Taj, a sin eater, an ancient practice wherein a person devours the sin of another, taking on the burden of their guilt. This practice has been documented at several points in history and although its origins are unclear it is considered to be a form of magic. Add in a dash of Nigerian mythology and this book sounds like a dream that I honestly wanted to love.
Taj has a very mercenary attitude, he looks out for himself and his fellow aki and them alone. While he cares to a degree about justice and gets angry watching the poor get ripped off he also isn’t the savior type. He uses fear and violence to get his way, sometimes doing unscrupulous things for his own convenience. I actually sort of liked Taj in the first part of the novel for his attitude, but as the book dragged on I found myself caring about him less and less because his character became kind of bland. He’s special for no reason in particular, complete with grand-sounding monikers and unique tattoos that don’t fade like the other sin-eaters. The only development that happens to his character is that he eventually realizes how powerful he is.
“Sin-beasts are shadows, beasts made of night. And an aki is like a ray of sunlight that comes down from the sky and shatters the sin, kills the shadows.”
All of the side characters were just boring, a few had some quirky character traits, but they were barely in the story long enough for the reader to actually care about any of them. The romance? It comes so far out of the left field and is simply talked about to the viewer in a few short paragraphs even though the characters don’t spend any time together.
The plot was close to non-existent as Taj drifts from one predicament to another, nothing about the story is explained or even hinted at. The book is definitely action-driven, and the fight scenes are actually pretty cool, in fact, they were one of the highlights of the book, but it wasn’t enough to carry it. Even by the 50% mark, the actual plot was still unclear, it’s not until the 75% mark that hints about where the story is headed start to show, and even then it’s extremely thin. It all descends into the tired old rebellion and savior tropes at that point, but Taj was never the heroic type to begin with. The antagonists are extremely predictable but the roles that they play are so minor and their appearances were so brief that I’m still not even sure what they were doing or why.
There is almost an attempt at some commentary about sins and the importance of carrying your own burdens, how it is the children that suffer when adults refuse to take responsibility for their actions. There is talk about religion, mathematical equations, the universe, and none of it makes even a lick of sense. Seriously, none of it is explored and only peppered into conversation with no explanation. The book tried to reach for some grand ideas but it’s thrown at the reader in snippets without any real attempt to develop them, it ended up feeling like filler.
As for the actual writing, besides the poor plot and character development, the book is littered with sentence fragments which really amplified the lack of polish. Since what I read was an early review copy I’m hoping that some of the writing and grammar issues were worked out, though some of it I think can’t really be fixed in its current state, it really feels like an early draft. I honestly wanted to put the book down onto my DNF shelf but finished for the sake of providing a review for the publisher. I was bored to tears for over half of the book just waiting for something substantial to happen. The lack of any real structure to the narrative really killed it for me.
This book just wasn’t for me but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work for someone else. Reviews on the book seem to be pretty hit or miss so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I think this story would have done better as a graphic novel, which would actually be pretty amazing considering how colorful the action and the world is.
Also, as a side note, this book would seriously benefit from a glossary of some sort due to the amount of information that gets dumped on the reader right from the start. Most terms, titles, and concepts can be deciphered or assumed over time while reading but there are others that are not so easily figured out, and to me, that’s a real inconvenience.