BeastkeeperBeastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Falling in love means becoming a monster.

Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.

I’m not sure what to rate this. I’m inclined to be a little gentler because I know it is a younger book… And I did pick it up because it had the nostalgic fairy tale feel of books I used to read when I was much younger with a cool twist on a very very familiar premise (so it’s not fair to go at it with a very critical eye).

I liked the set up a whole lot. I’m very fond of books that are inspired by a premise but don’t actively try to just rewrite it with different descriptions/setting/personalities. I enjoyed the inherited nature of the curse, and that those with it were cursed to change into a beast when they fell in love (only able to become human while that love is reciprocated, which is a nice way to do the whole love breaking the curse without making it out that it is a permanent fix that solves everything).

I also really liked the various forms we saw the curse take, and the way that influenced the relationships of those affected. I actually mostly liked all of the characters? I enjoyed Sarah as a narrator because she really nicely kinda fit that bridge between child and young adult, and she was actually allowed to show reactions that fit that? I mean that she’d get upset but also resolve to be stronger and push through. I didn’t so much connect with her, but I was still rooting for her.

I think what it was was that the book kind of reminded me of Ghibli, and Sarah reminded me of the studio’s young but determined protagonists?? (particularly thinking of Chihiro from Spirited Away). That did make me a little more fond of her, particularly because I know I was absolutely that kid expecting magic just around the corner…

I also have to say that I really liked her Nanna, and her relationship with her beast, because I loved that it was more complicated than your standard evil grandparent/true love sort of deal. I wanted the best for her Nanna (and to be honest I wanted more of her story…)

The one thing that was lacking, though, was the depth of some of the story elements and relationships. I did borrow this book in part just because it was very short, and I’d read so much in the library I couldn’t justify not finishing… But I think one of my main problems with the book is that it was very short? There was no time to really develop some of the relationships, and I don’t even mean in terms of Sarah’s friendship (or more) with Alan. I mean more as much as I understand that being separated from her parents would be heartbreaking, you don’t really feel their loss with her? You see her mother for two pages at the start, and she’s described mostly in a cold way, and her father disappears shortly after….

Similarly, there’s a few plot things that I would have liked to see built up a little more? But perhaps that’s just more something I’m used to in books aimed at older audiences? It has been awhile since I’ve read proper young fantasy…

It’s just that things really start happening all of a sudden in the last twenty pages (no really, I went back to check), and the kinda final solution is given in the last three pages, after a bit of a time skip, with no time to really… feel what that actually means? There were some really cool shifts in the characters (spoiler)esp with Alan(spoiler) that I would have loved to just… see more of??

I’m not sure what to make of the ending to be honest. I was hoping for some message about love, possibly with the love of families or learning to depend on yourself? Instead it seemed to be solved by external sources?

I’m definitely gonna recommend this to my cousins, though. Or to friends looking for a quick, sweet reminder of the books that used to make you believe you’d find magic around the corner when you were a kid c:

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