BEASTS MADE OF NIGHT introduces a stunning new world, but falters in one major area.
Rich Nigerian folklore collides with original fantasy in Tochi Onyebuchi’s Beasts Made of Night, the tale of aki aka “sin-eaters” who consume the physical manifestations of others’ sins to maintain a “pure” society.
Taj is famous among sin-eaters in the city of Kos, known for bringing down fearsome sin-beasts formed from some of the worst behaviors. He’s “light-bringer,” the one that gets called in to decimate sin-beasts that have killed less skilled aki. As a whole, aki are essentially indentured servants to the crown and the mages that pull sin-beasts forth from people’s bodies (for a price,) but Taj is a leader among the rag-tag group. But Taj also knows that he’s a bit different than the other aki. His “sin spots”– tattoos developed after devouring a sin– don’t fade and he doesn’t feel the crushing guilt of the sinner as most aki do. Even so, Taj feels the threat of eventual madness looming over him. When the royal palace mages forcefully recruit Taj, he realizes that there are bigger plans afoot for the aki, plans that could have a dangerous outcome for all of Kos.
I listened to the audiobook version of this tale thanks to Penguin Random House Audio, and I would be remiss not to start by praising Prentice Onayemi’s deft narration and theatrical aplomb. He brings Kos and its residents to life with enthusiasm and vibrant descriptions that make you feel like you’re there in the moment. We give this an A+ for narration, but the story itself had problems that made for a sometimes frustrating read.
There were some beautiful elements to Beasts Made of Night. In particular, the worldbuilding deserves a serious shout out. The descriptions came right off the page: Food you could practically smell, neighborhoods you could practically see, and sin-beasts in all their dark, twisted glory. We also spend a lot of time getting to know the main players in this drama. I got a really solid idea of what each character wants out of the society and why they behaved in certain ways. I found myself getting attached to secondary characters, like Arzu and Aliya, even more than Taj because their personalities shined so brightly.
Taj is a likable character, dependable despite being a bit of a jerk at times. He’s got a temper, but he’s a defender and he’s also got a brotherly side that shapes young aki as they learn their craft. My generally good feelings toward him change when it comes to his interactions with women. Taj seems to have an attraction to and a “moment” with every age-appropriate female character. His attraction to the princess, despite his bitter mistrust of the rest of the royals, feels like an especially thin plot contrivance.
The novel spends so much time developing its world and characters that it barely spends any time moving the plot along. There are some odd storytelling choices. For instance, we’re given a flashback with a seemingly important plot detail early on, but Taj doesn’t remember it until after its relevance has come and gone. Several times throughout the novel, we’re made aware of the dangers Taj and the aki face– not just sin-beasts and the madness they could develop from consuming too many, but the prejudices and the politics that could doom them as well. The problem is that we don’t really see any of it in action until the last quarter or so of the book. The story ended with a heavy cliffhanger that felt more incomplete than suspenseful. Essentially, book one felt like a lengthy set-up for the series to come.
The action sequences in this debut play out nicely and the stakes feel high during such scenes, particularly at the end of the novel when things really kick off. The moral philosophy behind the climax also has great thematic ties, though its execution didn’t feature the soundest logic. Readers know what the antagonist is trying to achieve, but we don’t know what actual ability Taj and his allies have to stop it from happening. In my opinion, leaving that detail hanging until Book 2 wasn’t the best decision because it makes the battle at hand feel futile, and not in an anticipatory, “what happens next” way.
I’m certainly not writing this book off completely. As I previously mentioned, I’m attached to the characters now, so I want to see how thing play to for Taj and the others. But expectations were high for this book, despite its debut status, and I wish mine were a little better met.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS
Beasts Made Of Night is out now. You can order it (in hardcover, eBook, or audiobook form) via Amazon.
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 royal, 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.