After having my eye on this book for quite some time, I was finally in the mood for a good YA story. Beasts of Prey has had a lot of hype surrounding it, and I'm happy to say, it did not disappoint.
It follows the story of Koffi and Ekon. Koffi is an indentured servant at a zoo, who lost her father at a young age and has been barely surviving with her mother as they toil under the thumb of a cruel taskmaster. Ekon has his sights set on the Sons of the Six, an elite band of warriors who keep the peace in their town. The Shetani is a mythical beast that has terrorized the town for a long time. Dead bodies show up on the edge of the Jungle, and everyone lives in fear of the Shetani. No one has seen it and lived to tell the tale.
One night, a disastrous fire at the zoo sets some things in motion that pulls Koffi and Ekon together, both of them determined to find the Shetani. Ekon wants vengeance for the slaying of his father, and Koffi wants to use it to buy her and her mother's freedom. Both are highly motivated, determined to hunt the beast down in the Jungle. They are in a race against time, and encounter all sorts of mythical beasts and magical creatures in their pursuit.
This story is highly engaging, full of characters that are well fleshed out, with varying motivations and relatable problems. Koffi must deal with her emerging magical powers, and Ekon must deal with the fear of failure. He desperately wants to be a Son of the Six, but at what cost? Even the side characters in this story are well done - from Ekon's brother, to a formidable priest, to Koffi's little "brother"... I flew threw this book.
What really stands out, however, is the worldbuilding and culture. You can tell the author put her soul into creating a world so magical, so deeply ingrained in culture, history, and language. It's absolutely breathtaking. The author does a phenomenal job of interweaving plot, characters, and worldbuilding, where one is not sacrificed for the other.
My only contention is that there were a few scenes that I feel didn't do much to advance the story, and like most YA books, the romance felt unnecessary. It wasn't overdone, for which I was grateful, but it did feel stilted.
All in all, this is a fast-paced, tasteful, engaging read. 4/5 stars, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.