Title: Among the Beasts and Briars
Author: Ashley Poston
Page Length: 352
Publication Date: Oct. 20, 2020
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Synopsis: 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.
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Among the Beasts and Briars is a story of transformation and development, about embracing yourself flaws and all, about having self-worth and taking risks. Cerys is the daughter of the royal gardener and destined to replace her father when he retires. Years ago, she and her best friends, the prince and princess, were involved in a terrible tragedy, and only the princess and Cerys survived. The prince, their guard, and Cerys’ mother perished to the woods by which they lived. However, Cerys has constant reminders of that fateful day, including the scar on her neck and new magical powers, which enable her to enhance nature.
On the princess’s coronation day, the wood monsters from their past reemerge and destroy everything that Cerys loves. Her only choice? To run into the cursed woods that she escaped from years before. With the help of her trusty fox and a brave bear, Cerys decides to travel deep into the mysterious and deadly woods to find the lost city of Voryn, where she hopes to find a way to help her friends, family, and kingdom.
This is an easy story to get lost in. From the first pages, Poston immerses the reader into this fantastical world where royalty has power, wild woods are dangerous, animals seem to know more than humans, and monsters lurk around every corner. The story is fluid and well-paced, and the writing is beautiful. I love the vivid descriptions that drew me into a fantastical and frightening world.
The characters are another highlight of the novel. Cerys is a smart and resilient protagonist who doesn’t realize her own power. Her fear of the outside world and the unknown battles with her desire to explore and have freedom of choice. She repeatedly alludes to the fact that she is insignificant, easy to forget, and bound for a dull future, which conflicts with her desire for adventure and her true nature. She is a loving daughter, a true friend, and a kind person who feels and loves deeply, and her interactions with others, as well as her actions, show just how remarkable and memorable she is.
Cerys underestimates herself many times, but what I like is that, as she goes on this physical quest, she also goes on an emotional journey. She learns to trust her instincts and have more faith in herself, and I love that! Though they spend much of their journey fleeing and frightened, it is also on this journey that Cerys and her friend Fox learn more about themselves than they ever expected.
Fox is my favorite character in the novel. Funny, sassy, and clever, Fox goes through so many obstacles. His most difficult is trying to adjust to life as a human. Having feelings, walking on two legs, feeling uncomfortable in his own skin, dealing with the ramifications of his actions, and facing his fears are just a few of Fox’s struggles. He is a flawed character, often acting on impulse and behaving selfishly, but he learns, and he changes. Plus, his witty banter, especially with Cerys and the bear, is fantastic!
My other favorite part of the story is the romance. I don’t want to reveal too much, but the way that this couple feels about each other is so lovely and genuine. Take a look at some of my favorite lines:
And then, worst of all, he grinned. And oh, what a dangerous look that was, trouble tucked into the corners of his mouth like sin… And then his grin turned into a smile – and as strange as it was, it felt like, for the first time, I’d been found on the outside of the garden wall and asked to come inside.
She smiled at me – and it was bright and genuine, and I felt like I was falling even as I stood still.
I just love the budding feelings that this couple experiences, and their reactions to their growing feelings are priceless. Though they are not without their problems, they have a strong connection, and they are stronger together than they are apart.
Among the Beasts and Briars is a great standalone story that will appeal to YA fantasy readers who enjoy immersive worlds and amazing characters. With a well-paced plot, suspenseful action, fantastic characters, a unique setting, and great morals, this book is a treat to read. Thanks so much to Netgalley and Harper Collins Children’s Books for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
The romance, of course! This is a sweet and cute couple that I can root for!
The world building. The woods, the fantastical characters, the powers – everything is so well-developed and vivid.
The writing! This is the first book I’ve read by Ashley Poston, and I loved it. I’m definitely going to look for more stories by this skilled writer!
We did not bloom where our roots did not grow.
How did they know what they could be if no one told them what they couldn’t?
The people who go never really leave. That we carry them with every breath we take, until the wind itself is gone.”
Readers who enjoy darker YA fantasy tales will love this immersive story!