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Review: The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi

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In the afterword of The Beast Warrior, Nahoko Uehashi writes that the book’s prequel, The Beast Player, “was like a beautiful closed circle”, that it didn’t require a sequel. After reading both books, one immediately after the other, it’s impossible to agree with that statement. The Beast Warrior not only feels like a true successor to the story of The Beast Player; it also builds on the story, world, and characters of that book in every conceivable way. More than a sequel, this book is the embodiment of growth and improvement.

The Beast Warrior

the beast warrior nahoko uehashi

The Beast Player is a 500 page YA fantasy epic from Japanese author Nahoko Uehashi. It tells the story of Elin, a young girl who grew up in a village full of caretakers who train and look after a herd of dangerous beasts known as Toda. Elin’s mother, originally from a distant and mysterious tribe, is sentenced to death after the most elite beasts in the village all suddenly die at once under her care. After escaping the village, Elin is raised by a wandering beekeeper and subsequently grows into adulthood at a sanctuary for another kind of dangerous creature: Royal Beasts.

While it certainly is a complete novel, I never felt as though The Beast Player was a finished story. The book follows the fantasy tradition of dropping the reader into an impressively detailed world and having its history, geography, lore, politics, traditions, and culture all slowly unfold as the protagonist grows and travels. But The Beast Player suffers from a lot of awkward exposition and unanswered questions, the most frustrating of which being the initial driving moment of the plot: the death of the Toda in Elin’s village.

At its core, The Beast Player is a novel about a young woman unlearning everything she has been told about the human relationship to Toda and Royal Beasts. It’s about her forming a bond with her own Royal Beast, a female named Leelan, and the two growing up together. It is, to an eerie degree, How to Train Your Dragon.

And while The Beast Player is, by no means, a bad novel, its sequel, The Beast Warrior, is bigger and better in every single way. While The Beast Player was a character-focussed story of growth and personal discovery, set in a world that is only vaguely established and explored (through some very rough and confusing political and cultural world-building), The Beast Warrior is an ambitious, clearly defined, smart, and savvy thrill-ride of big political themes and enormous national stakes.

The Beast Warrior is set roughly ten years after The Beast Player’s conclusion, with Elin now around thirty years old, married to a supporting character from the first book, and mother to an eight-year-old boy named Jesse. The book begins with Elin being called to investigate a slew of Toda deaths which closely mirror those that drove the story of the first book. Here, we finally get an answer to these strange Toda deaths.

Following this, whispers of invasion quickly grow to a loud threat of international war – centred entirely around the Toda and Royal Beasts, and their potential for destruction as tools of war and conquest – with Elin desperately looking for a way to save both her people and the beasts from so much death and destruction.

This is a fantastic set-up for a sequel to The Beast Player. While the first book was intimate, focussing on the personal growth and self-discovery of Elin and her Royal Beast, this sequel is all about Elin’s place in the world, and how she uses what she learned in the first book, her station within her nation, and the relationships she initially forged to bring about change and stop the looming threat of war. This is exactly how a fantasy sequel should behave: moving from the personal to the political, from the small stage to the epic quest.

Another enormous improvement from the first book is how The Beast Warrior sets up its world. In the first book, Uehashi spent so little time painting a clear picture of the world. For a 500-page fantasy epic, there was so much wasted space and so little definition, even down to a complete lack of physical description. The characters, towns, villages, even the Toda and Royal Beasts are so poorly defined. We never get a clear description of what these incredible and fantastical beasts even look like, only that one can swim and the other can fly.

In The Beast Warrior, however, so much more time is dedicated to describing, painting, and fleshing-out this world. We are offered detailed descriptions of homes and streets; we get shown the food and clothing of this world. There is texture and life here this time around. Despite the book being longer, it feels like less space is being wasted and every word is being put to good use. If The Beast Player was all about Elin, The Beast Warrior is all about the world she inhabits, right down to its history, cuisine, traditions, myths, and laws.

There is such richness to the world in The Beast Warrior. Elin’s son, Jesse, is a sweet and charismatic child, clever beyond his years. The returning secondary characters are all far more likeable and relatable here. There’s sass and wit and humour to their dialogue. Conversations are far more fluid and engaging than they were in the first book. The stakes are higher, yes, but there is also a far greater spectrum of emotion explored in the dialogue and the intimate character-on-character moments.

Elin has also grown in such an exciting and fulfilling way here. Perhaps part of the reason I only like The Beast Player but fully love The Beast Warrior is because Elin is now my age: she’s a wife, a mother, a teacher, someone with great responsibilities who continues to both learn and teach as the book moves forward. Elin has always been an engaging protagonist, but now she is an inspiring one.

Conclusion

This is how you write a sequel. The Beast Warrior builds on everything that The Beast Player started. In this book, we are thrown into a fully realised fantasy world of exciting beasts and political grit. The lore is deepend and the world expanded. The story is grander and the journey longer. The characters have grown up and now carry a heavier burden. Even the writing itself has matured and become more considered, rich, and detailed. The Beast Warrior is more than a worthy successor; it leaves its predecessor in the dust and stands tall as a victorious fantasy epic.

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