The Black Beast by Nancy Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Prince Tirell, heir to a legacy of madness and death, has his life torn apart when his true love is slain, and his younger brother, Frain, finds himself swept along. The story plays on multiple levels: the personal, where the most important value is family devotion; the global, where Tirell plans rebellion; and the divine, with a goddess, dragons, and a trip through the realm of the dead.
This volume is stronger than the last, for a few reasons. It relies less on the burden of prophecy to carry its plot and motivations. The goddess Shamarra claims that destiny connects her to Tirell, but is that really true? The worldbuilding is deeper, with a few particularly interesting quirks, such as the natives' deep and abiding fear of water - not just oceans, but rivers and streams. (As a side note, though the back of the last book makes it clear that story does occur in the same world, this book has no direct connection and stands alone.)
Another interesting aspect of the book is that it is told in first person perspective - not just one character but three, following in succession. Though it's well handled, I wasn't sure there was any point to using the perspective of Fabron, the smith-king; I would have been just as, if not more, happy with a fifty-fifty split between Frain and Tirell. And although leaving Tirell's perspective until last does a nice job of building a question in the reader's mind - why does he act the way he does? - the answer doesn't feel strong enough to be a valid payoff.
Still, we start the book with Frain, and that's the journey that matters: Frain's. The Black Beast ends with a tantalizing glimpse of his future ...
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