I joined the HarperCollins Canada influencer program just in the nick of time to be sent the Fall 2020 YA catalogue links for Edelweiss and this was the only title I really wanted, but as I was brand new to Edelweiss and had no stats to back myself up, and whoever was doing approvals clearly didn’t care about my new status, I didn’t get this one as an ARC. Instead, I promptly noted it down and added myself to the hold list for every copy I could find across the 3 libraries I hold cards for on Libby and patiently waited my turn. I say all of this to illustrate how much anticipation I had built up for this book so that you understand the significance of saying I was not disappointed when I finally got to experience it!
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About the Book
Among the Beasts & Briars
by Ashley Poston
Published 20 October 2020
by Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Count: 352
Audio Length: 8 hr 12 min
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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.
My Rating: 4 Stars
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Cerys is the daughter of the royal gardener, and that’s all she figures she’ll ever be. The princess is her best friend. A rather tame and friendly fox is always close by. Life is pretty ordinary. Except her mother was taken by the curse of the Wild Wood and ever since that day her blood sprouts flowers. No big deal, right? Not until the curse comes calling and seems to take everyone in the kingdom except for Cerys and her fox, and the two must venture off into the foreboding woods in search of a legendary lost city and the restorative magic it holds.
Before I go any further, I’ll say I ended up experiencing this book as an audiobook, so please forgive me if I spell things wrong or don’t even try to use the correct place and character names. I didn’t see them written, I only heard them, and my hearing is actually not the best. Why then did I listen to the audiobook? I like them anyway, I like being able to multitask, and it feels less like I’m cheating on my scheduled tour reads if I have an ebook up next and I’m not reading the wrong ebook…
I have heard from sources here and there that this is meant to be a loose fairytale retelling of the Sleeping Beauty flavour, and looking back now that I’ve read it I can see the very loose, broad strokes of potential influence there, but if I had gone into this book knowing nothing at all I would not have picked that up. It scratches the same itch as a good fairytale retelling, but it’s very much its own unique story.
I love the mythology and lore built for this story, and I would absolutely enjoy more stories in this world. There’s room for an interesting sequel, but there could easily be a prequel way back at the time the crown was forged, or there could be other unrelated stories to tell that happen to share the same setting and mythology. At one point the bear character Cerys and Fox meet is referred to as “one of our last surviving gods.” Who were the others? Which others are left? Was this one always a bear or has she been cursed into this form? Then there are the Ancient Ones. Have they always been bringers of curses? Are they more always have been always will be demons or are they more fallen angels? There’s so much that could be explored, and I am absolutely enchanted by this world.
My favourite character was by far Fox, especially when he was getting used to being human. (Minorist of spoilers: sometimes Fox is a fox and sometimes he’s not.) I really enjoyed his interactions with the bear, especially since Cerys couldn’t understand the bear so she was only getting Fox’s side of those conversations. Fox is the cowardly hero type. He’s genuinely caring and sincerely wants to be helpful and heroic, but it takes him several attempts and a couple more severe failures before he figures out how to get out of his own way and be the hero.
Cerys doesn’t feel like she has as much of an arc as a YA protagonist should. Things happen, she sets out on a quest, more things happen both to and around her, she succeeds in her quest but not in the way she thought she would, and then she’s still the royal gardener’s daughter who’s best friends with the princess and doesn’t aspire to much else. Other characters around her like Fox change massively, but she doesn’t. I honestly felt like this was Fox’s story that just happens to open and close in someone else’s point of view. (We do flip flop between Cerys and Fox as POV characters, by the way.) This is one of the two big reasons why although I absolutely love this book, it’s not a 5 star.
The other big reason is that the last fifth to quarter felt a bit rushed and I really felt that some things needed more explanation. Throughout the adventure we’re being prodded to ask questions about what happened to the Lady of the Wilds, and how did this all-important magical crown come into being. As you read through you start to suspect that none of these characters you’re hanging out with are who they appear to be and you start theorizing that one of them is the Lady of the Wilds. Further in you start to wonder if and how the Lady of the Wilds’ disappearance has something to do with the creation of the crown. We’re rewarded with a lot of answers, and a few reveals I didn’t work out before they happened, but some big questions are left rather fuzzy. It’s very clear who survives the curse back home or not, but it’s less clear who came out of the forest and what form they came out in. That’s as specific as I’m willing to be because spoilers.
Before I leave this point, though, one much smaller complaint: there is a point in that range at the end where Cerys interacts with a fox in one scene and with Fox in the next, and in the audiobook experience where you don’t have the benefit of seeing whether the first fox is written with a capital or lower case F, it’s unclear whether or not box scenes are Fox or Cerys is randomly interacting with some other fox, which she has not done until that point in the story. Fox is the only fox in this world that Cerys ever sees until potentially this one point. When the first scene went by I figured it was Fox, but then in the next seen that was definitely Fox, there are circumstances that made me doubt the identity of the previous fox. I just wanted to say that if it’s some random, symbolic, regular fox, I missed the memo, but I kind of hope it was.
With all of that said, this is a beautifully written story about loyalty, friendship, and fixing inherited wrongs.
To comment on the audiobook specifically, there are two narrators, one for each point of view, and I think it was beautifully done. All narrative elements that step back from the character we’re in and give a little more distanced insight are simply handled by whichever narrator is currently performing, rather than all being assigned to one or even a separate third “narrative voice” role performer. I really appreciate that. It means this book isn’t too broken up. I also appreciate the fact that Cerys and Fox are read by feminine and masculine voices respectively because it was immediately obvious that we had jumped POVs every time the narrators swapped. There’s absolutely zero room for confusion on whose head we’re in. On the flip side of the coin, it’s now harder for me to comment on how well the author differentiated these two voices in the original text because the work of realizing the switch was done for me. If the text version has headers announcing the POV that was not carried over into the narration.
Coincidentally I listened to this book immediately after finishing Ashlords by Scott Reintgen, and I recognized Andrew Eiden’s voice right away. It was a little disorienting at first given how recently I’d just hear him perform a different character because Adrian in Ashlord and Fox in Among the Beasts & Briars are nothing alike, but I really enjoy his voice so I didn’t mind.
If I had rated this book on Audible, my rating would be story 4, performance 5, overall 4.
About the Author
Ashley Poston loves dread pirates, moving castles, and starry night skies.
Ashley graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in English. She has worked at Kodansha USA and Bloomsbury Publishing as a social media coordinator and marketing designer respectively. Currently, she offers her work to freelance clients and writes full-time.
Her books have appeared on the Indie Next List multiple times, and have been featured in Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Entertainment Weekly, Hypable, Buzzfeed, and the Goodreads Choice Awards. Her critically-acclaimed sci-fi duology, Heart of Iron, was named on 2019’s Rainbow List.
When not writing, she plays Dungeons and Dragons and reads fanfic. She lives in South Carolina with her bossy cat, and they are firm believers that we’re all a bunch of weirdos looking at other weirdos, asking for their username.
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