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The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi
Book Name: The Beast Player (Kemono no Soja)
Author: Nahoko Uehashi
Publisher(s): Kodansha Ltd. (Japan) Pushkin Children's Books (US & UK)
Formatt: Paperback
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: November 21, 2006 (Japan) February 21, 2018 (US & UK)

Originally written in Japanese and published in 2006, this edition of The Beast Player is translated by Cathy Hirano. At the heart of this book is a coming of age story but there is so much more to it than that. Set in a fictional fantasy world, the story starts when a young Elin’s life is thrown into disarray when her mother is sentenced to death.

I have to admit that the cover drew me to this book first. I am very glad it did because it was fantastic. From the very beginning I was hooked. Since I haven’t (and can’t) read the original Japanese editions I can’t comment on the how good the translation is, but I will say that I thought the writing was fantastic. It immerses you in the world and characters from the very beginning.

At just over 500 pages this is quite a lengthy book but the writing and characters mean this is a compelling read throughout. The overall pacing of this book is quite slow as it does focus more on the characters and their relationships. There isn’t a lot of action, until towards the end of the book, so if you’re looking for a fast paced, action packed fantasy then this isn’t it, but you’ll be missing out.

One of the main strengths of this book and the characters and their arcs. When we start the book, Elin is roughly ten-years-old but by the end of the book she is in her twenties. I loved that we got to see her development. Yes, there are skips in time, which I find can sometimes distance you from the characters, but that is not the case with this book. She is a wonderful female and it was a pleasure to see her develop from a child to a young woman.

Despite the fact we mainly follow Elin, we do get some other perspectives throughout the book. There are quite a lot of characters, but there is a character list provided if you need a little help keeping track of them all. Uehashi did a fantastic job at developing the relationships between them too, especially between Elin and Leelan. Another strength of this book was the lack of romance. I feel sometimes authors write in romance because they feel it has to be a part of a story, so I loved that the main character doesn’t have a love interest in this one.

Uehashi did a fantastic job of creating this world and slowly revealing things to the reader as the story progresses. Although we focus very much on the world around Elin, we also get a wider look into the world as a whole and the cultures, which are very interesting to read about. Uehashi has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and I think this shows in her writing. There is such depth and clarity to her worldbuilding. The only thing I would say is that it is a shame there isn’t a map of the world included within the book.

Overall, I adored this book. It has gone straight onto my favourites list and I cannot say enough good things about it. From what I understand this is part of a series and there are about four books out in Japanese, but only one has been translated so far. I am unsure whether this translated edition is the first Japanese book or whether it’s a combination of some or all of the already released four books in Japanese. There is another series by this author that has been translated, which I fully plan on checking out. If you are looking for a new fantasy book to read, then I highly recommend this one. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


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