The Beast Player

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Henry Holt and Company (BYR), Mar 26, 2019 - Young Adult Fiction - 352 pages
2 Reviews
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Elin's family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom's army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin's mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?

 

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User Review  - electrascaife - LibraryThing

Elin is the daughter of an outcast; her mother is a foreigner who was loved by the prince of the people they now live among, loathed yet needed by them for her special ability to care for and train ... Read full review

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The Beast Player is a setting similar to feudal Japan in my mind. Especially with the parts played by the Toda warriors. The descriptions of Elin's world are exceptionally beautiful, in-depth, and make it easy to imagine what it would look like. The Royal Beasts are also described with great detail but leave a little to the imagination - to me they would look like a wolf griffon only significantly larger. The Toda lack in-depth descriptions other than being serpents but I imagine them similar in appearance to Haku from Spirited Away but less beautiful and I'm not entirely sure if they do have legs.
I really enjoyed Elin's time with Joeun and the in-depth detail Nahoko Uehashi described beekeeping - my brother-in-law keeps bees. Joeun fed Elin's curiosity into the mysteries of nature works and how creatures function. In her time with Joeun she discovers a passion for the Royal Beasts after seeing them for years on their trips following the seasonal flowers for the bees. Despite her young age, Elin is exceptionally bright, her inquisitive mind leads her to discoveries and unusual methods others hadn't thought of. It is because of this Elin finds herself studying to be a beast doctor and caring for a Royal Beast cub. The cub is near the brink of death and Elin's methods not only save the cub and create a bond but defy the ways that the Royal Beast Canon states Beasts should be cared for. The reasoning behind the Royal Beast Canon, the Law's existence, and the context of Elin's mother's death is not revealed until the tail end of the book. The story is told to characters before this point but not disclosed to the reader which was a little frustrating.
The only thing that really broke up the seamlessness of the book in my eyes were the other points of view. Although it all tied together in the end it was a little jarring to switch to someone completely new and in a different setting. That's the only reason I hesitated to put this book at a 5 but I would put it at a 4.5-4.75. I would agree with the statements that compare The Beast Player with a Studio Ghibli movie - it could definitely be one. The story would most closely resemble that of Princess Mononoke, where the balance between the worlds of humanity and nature is in a state of unrest.
I would highly recommend The Beast Player to readers who enjoy books about animals (and the relationships humans have with them), fantasy, and Japanese mythology. I purchased this book because I didn't initially realize The Beast Warrior I requested from NetGalley was part of a series and I am VERY glad I did. I would definitely not suggest reading them out of order.
 

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About the author (2019)

Nahoko Uehashi is one of Japan's most popular children's writers. She has won numerous awards, including the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award. An associate professor at a Japanese university, she has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and studies indigenous peoples in Australia. Her books include the multivolume Moribito series. She lives near Tokyo, Japan.

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