Nation of the Beasts is the first of a new four book series by Mariana Palova (all of which will be translated into English). Per the publisher, The Mage’s Lantern/International Book Publishers Association:
Originally published in Spanish, La Nación de las Bestias: El Señor del Sabbath enchanted Latin American readers, and now the first book of the Nation of the Beasts series makes its English language debut.
Although classified as sci-fi/fantasy Nation of the Beasts is, in my opinion, more horror with fantasy elements. Truthfully, I say this with a great amount of enthusiasm. I may be just missing out on a whole genre of YA Fiction, but I have rarely come across books I could classify as true horror. However, it became quite clear that the demons chasing Elisse, the main character, were nothing short of terrifying.
Wobbling from side to side, a mass of bloody flesh driven by protruding arms palmed the ground… It had neither head nor eyes but knew where I hid. I held back a whimper as it passed over the bowl of rice and bathed it with clots of rotted blood.
Thank you to NetGalley and the Mage’s Lantern/IBPA for an ARC in exchange for an honest review
Nation of the Beasts will hook you from the beginning and then doesn’t let go. Starting with a mysterious flee from a burning monastery, Elisse knows nothing of his parentage and ends up with his tutor at a refugee camp. An American in India. His mother having died in childbirth and just a picture of a father who abandoned him for unknown reasons.
Chased by demons that he doesn’t understand his whole life he comforted by one fact. They only come to scare him. They don’t touch him, and they only plague his nightmares. That is, until he leaves for New Orleans as a young adult. In search of his father and answers to his troubled existence with these demons that plague him, Elisse moves to a Buddhist monastery.
It is here in New Orleans that Elisse truly grapples with and comes to grip with his plight. He is running from demons that not only he can see but find him by day when they used to only come at night. His excuse of having night terrors when people find him lying in ditches or during unexplained disappearances are no longer working. Yet he has no respite from something only he knows to exist.
After so many years, I wait for the day when I can finally get used to these beings. But how do I live with the torment of seeing things that no one else can see, and even worse, from which nobody can protect me?
That is until a stranger shows up and offers to provide Elisse all the answers he seeks. If and only if Elisse will come with him and trust him. Elisse finds this stranger is not alone. He is a part of a larger group that Elisse finds more of a family than any he had known in India or New Orleans; one that may not only understand the demons he fights but can help him conquer them, as well.
Palova wraps Elisse’s story around a cast of interesting characters that authentically care for Elisse while bringing New Orleans alive in stunning detail. Additional mysteries are interwoven with disappearing remains of the dead, well-researched utilization of voodoo rapping the horrors of the demons in stunning detail in other mysteries of missing bodies from local graves, dark magic and well-researched use of voodoo and magical forces throughout the story.
The ending leaves a cliffhanger worthy of the start of a trilogy. It sets-up the second book and leaves you with enough questions to want a second book while providing enough answers to secondary stories to not leave you completely hanging.
There were two parts of Nation of the Beasts that were out of place. One might have been due to the translation from Spanish to English. One was not translation based.
First, there were times that the language didn’t quite make sense. Word choice seemed off or pronouns hindered the flow or understanding of what was happening. With a couple of rereads of the sentence and/or paragraph you could sort it out, and it was worth the reread. However, it is important to note this as an issue.
Second, the fluidity of transition from first to second person a) without any understanding of how or why was confusing to say the least (especially in the beginning when it was really jarring) and b) without any clue who/what was suddenly narrating the story. This is especially true since it really was more of a what narrating than a who. Being it is more of a mystical/magical being (and it takes time to pick up on it- more of an inference that you must go with).
Having more clarity around the role of this new narrator and why/when/how their point of view comes into play would intensify the impact. Even if the author wants to have a mystique around it at first, provide some clues for us to follow so we aren’t completely blindsided.