Book Review : Among the Beasts and Briars

Book Review : Among the Beasts and BriarsAmong the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston
Published by Balzer + Bray on October 20th 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 352
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Cerys is safe in the kingdom of Aloriya.
Here there are no droughts, disease, or famine, and peace is everlasting. It has been this way for hundreds of years, since the first king made a bargain with the Lady who ruled the forest that borders the kingdom. But as Aloriya prospered, the woods grew dark, cursed, and forbidden. Cerys knows this all too well: when she was young, she barely escaped as the woods killed her friends and her mother. Now Cerys carries a small bit of the curse—the magic—in her blood, a reminder of the day she lost everything. The most danger she faces now, as a gardener’s daughter, is the annoying fox who stalks the royal gardens and won’t leave her alone.
As a new queen is crowned, however, things long hidden in the woods descend on the kingdom itself. Cerys is forced on the run, her only companions the small fox from the garden, a strange and powerful bear, and the magic in her veins. It’s up to her to find the legendary Lady of the Wilds and beg for a way to save her home. But the road is darker and more dangerous than she knows, and as secrets from the past are uncovered amid the teeth and roots of the forest, it’s going to take everything she has just to survive.

Among the Beasts and Briars is an interesting retelling of Sleeping Beauty that follows not a princess, but the royal gardener’s daughter named Cerys on a quest to save not only the people she loves, but also the entire kingdom from an ancient curse. Though the tale is very simplistic and adheres closely to the fairy tale tropes of pure maidens, enchanted princes, and talking animals, I really did enjoy the unique twist on the curse, which turns people into flesh eating zombies that the novel refers to as bone eaters.

 

“The wildwood came for us the day the king died.”

 

In Cerys’s world of Aloriya, legend says that their first king burned his way through the cursed wood to find the magical city of Voryn. Once there, he struck a deal with the Lady of the Wilds to protect his kingdom from the monstrous creatures who lurked in her forest. In her benevolence, the Lady of the Wilds granted him a crown that would protect his people, so long as they remained out of her wood and Voryn. Among the Beasts and Briars begins with the death of the latest king and the crowning of Cerys’s best friend, Anwen, and heir to the throne. Prior to the coronation, Anwen and Cerys are filled with unease, the memory of the death of Anwen’s older brother, Prince Lorne, and Cerys’s mother at the hands of the cursed wood pressing down on what should be a joyous day.

 

And for good reason, as the coronation is attacked by the ravenous creatures of the wood, bringing with them the seeds of their woodcurse, which turn humans into the same soulless creatures. Cerys manages to save the crown with the help of her pet fox, but is forced to flee into the cursed wood that robbed her of her mother and friend. Luckily, Cerys has a bit of her own magic, which allows her to grow plants at alarming rates with the touch of her blood, at her disposal. Drawn to the pull of the magical crown, her footsteps are dogged by ancients and bone eaters. Without a doubt, the most original and my favorite parts of Among the Beasts and Briars were the description of these creatures.

 

“I saw the ancient raise its antlered head I saw it look at me with its deep yellow eyes, bare it’s bone-white teeth–”

 

I could easily picture how unnerving it would be for a young woman, defenseless and alone in a dark wood filled with horrific creatures, some with familiar, cursed faces, hunting her. But a lot of this tension is diminished as Cerys, and her fox, who is turned into a cowardly human along the way, easily and repeatedly escape these monsters at every turn. Cerys and the Fox make their way through the forest to Voryn in hopes of aid, with the help of an intelligent bear, and there, they find everything is supposedly not what it seems. But it’s very obvious to the reader what is truly going on every level–the truth of the bargain between the Lady of the Wilds and the first King of Aloriya and the true identity of the enchanted fox.

 

Unfortunately, I almost completely lost interest once Cerys and her companions made it to Voryn. And it was a struggle not to do so before then, as Among the Beast and Briars was so simplistic and predictable. Likewise, the characters themselves were more archetypes than actual developed characters. Though the novel repeatedly tells us that Cerys is a mere royal gardener’s daughter and not equipped to deal with this kind of magical quest, it’s almost laughable, because that is the exact fantasy trope! The trope involves someone simple, like a simple farmer, peasant, or a hobbit, etc., who has a quest and greatness thrust upon them and finds themselves in situations that they never imagined. So I couldn’t help but grow annoyed at how the novel kept trying to make this seem like a brand new idea.

 

I also didn’t much care for the banter between the Fox and Cerys. Though the novel is a fantasy, fairytale retelling, it uses pretty common vernacular. At one point Cerys even states the words, “bold of you to assume,” which I feel is almost a meme nowadays, and I found it very distracting and out of place in the story. I also couldn’t stand the Fox at all as a character. The novel makes him extremely cowardly in his new human form, using his previous existence as a fox as reasoning, when he was more courageous as a fox, even saving Cerys from harm. It just didn’t make sense to me or resonate with me at all. I have no idea how these two fell in love, as the Fox was incredibly likable, despite Among the Beasts and Briars telling us how charming he actually was. Literally no one who meets him likes him, View Spoiler » but okay.

 

Sadly, other than the bone eaters and the ancients of the cursed wood, Among the Beasts and Briars doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, even though it repeatedly tries to tell readers that it does. While it had a lot of promise, the execution was lacking due to its simplicity, lack of real character development, and predictability. It would be a good place for young readers who are just getting into the fantasy genre to start, but Among the Beasts and Briars does not have the complexity of other works in the fantasy or young adult genres.

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Book Review : Among the Beasts and Briars - Blogging with Dragons

Posted April 12, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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