by Morgan Keyes
Review by Sam Lubell
Margaret K. McElderry Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781442442085
Date: 24 September 2013 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Darkbeast Rebellion is the sequel to Darkbeast, a wonderful fantasy novel for middle grade readers. In this world, children are bonded to an animal who communicates with them telepathically and absorbs their dark emotions, fears, and misbehavior. Then, when the child turns 12, he or she must kill their darkbeast in order to become an adult. But the series' heroine, Keara, refuses to kill her darkbeast, a raven named Caw, and instead flees her village.
Darkbeast Rebellion opens with Keara, her Traveler friend Goran, and Taggart (Goran's grandfather), half starved and following rumors of a community of Darkers -- others who spared their darkbeasts in defiance of the law. They eventually find a group of adults with darkbeasts. Caw is content with being well fed while Keara is jealous that Goran seems more accepted by them. When they go to trade at a market festival, the three are captured by Inquisitors, imprisoned, and questioned.
There, Keara meets Patron, the chief Inquisitor, who gave up his position as heir to the Primate (ruler) to serve the god of darkbeasts, and his brother Dillion who has taken his place as Princeps. Dillion, who is just months away from needing to slay his own darkbeast, loves books and research while his brother is more warlike. Keara becomes caught up in their power struggle, causing her to be put on trial with her friends.
Darkbeast Rebellion shares many of the virtues of the first book. Caw is a wonderful character, alternating between begging for treats and dispensing wise advice. Keara is very real with her insecurity balancing her bravery. Goron and Taggart have less to do. The author seems to be setting up a romance and a rival, except these characters should be much too young for that. Among the new characters, Dillion is very interesting by virtue of seeming to want to be nicer than his background and position will allow. He does not want to be heir to the throne, he would rather be a scholar. He seems to befriend Keara, more because she is close to him in age than due to anything she does. The theme of trust and betrayal plays out in several ways--with the Darkers, Keara's relationships with Goran and Dillion, and Keara's former actress friend in the Travelers' troupe.
Unfortunately, the book has a couple of flaws that render it a little less entertaining than the first book. Because of the plot and Keara's age, she is straightjacketed into a passive role, with things happening to her rather than because of her. In the original book, Keara took action to save Caw and join the Travelers. Here, she follows the lead of adults in searching for the Darkers, getting captured, and what happens later. As a result, by the end of the book, it feels more like Dillion's story than Keara's. A second flaw is a lapse in internal logic. Since this happens later in the book, I do not want to give anything away, but it involves people whose safety involves being hidden not only taking very public action but doing so in a way that gives the local rulers a strong personal motivation to find them. Hopefully, the third book will address these problems.
This series is ideal for girls around age 8-14, although adults can enjoy it too. Unlike many fantasies for this age group it is not based on a fairy tale nor about a princess or super-powerful magic user. Keara is just an ordinary girl, trying to do what she thinks is right and keep Caw alive. The author has not said how many books will be in the series, but it is well worth following.P> Recommended.