a review by Nalini Haynes
Reign of Beasts is the third instalment of the Creature Court trilogy by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Velody, formerly Power and Majesty before being eaten by the sky, is credited with bringing Garnet back through the sky although it was more Poet than Velody who perpetrated the rescue. Garnet, the previous Power and Majesty, promptly returns to his abusive manipulative self to reclaim his position in the Creature Court. Ashiol turned on Velody in jealously after realising Velody and Garnet had sex in the sky. The rest of the court divided into factions mostly motivated by fear and power as was traditional.
At the end of the Shattered City, it is clear the final fight for survival is imminent. It was also clear at the close of Shattered City that a turning point had been reached in the narrative and that Reign of Beasts would differ from the previous two instalments of this story. The key difference in Reign of Beasts is Poet’s recital of the history of the Creature Court, mostly from his perspective. Thus Poet explains how relationships in the court evolved and what happened when Garnet stole Velody’s animor (an event from the beginning of the first book, but as that was from Velody’s perspective we didn’t see the ramifications for the court). The lives and passions of the Creature Court are very dysfunctional, distrusting one another to the point of downfall. Juxtaposed with this storytelling is action in the present, where the Court is divided, the sentinels choose sides and both sides search for a solution to end the sky battles.
There was no indication included at the beginning of the chapters of Poet’s recitals of the change in point of view, so sometimes it took me some paragraphs to a page or so to realise the shift in perspective. The primary determiner here was the story being told in the first person with a subtle difference in the tone and rhythm of storytelling. When Poet does not refer to himself in the first person promptly in these chapters I found myself floundering a little, then having to realign the story as I realised that a time shift had occurred. I would have preferred a heading, different type face or something to separate the present from the past more clearly.
The plot flows well from the first two books. Although the reader has a basic understanding of what occurred in the Creature Court before Velody regained her animor, Poet adds to this significantly. Poet’s story adds great depth to the characters, explaining their ambivalence and their motivations, leading up to the climax. Hints are given as to the solution so the author does not cheat and yet the resolution was unexpected. With the focus on things other than dressmaking, there is much less of an emphasis on clothes and yet the descriptions are still vivid, the prose consistent with previous novels.
My biggest criticism of this book is in the book design. The cover is consistent with the other covers: a woman holding a sword with a castle in the background, all photoshopped to be consistent with the previous colours and images. It is a nice cover, consistent with previous novels in the trilogy. The book I read for review is a mass market paperback with too-small text that I struggled to read. Because the layout of the page is somewhat crowded I accidentally bent the cover in order to read the text. Previously I have avoided commenting on book design because I didn’t know how much other readers would differ. Evie Kendall, DMF’s newest reviewer, has also commented that she prefers young adult books because their design is more comfortable to read than a mass market paperback; therefore I’m adding my perception of this design. I feel that, to truly love a book, the entire experience needs to be enjoyable.
Overall Reign of Beasts was a dramatic third part of a plot that consistently carries the reader through twists and turns, relationship development and life-threatening battles, to a surprising finish. Highly recommended for mature readers of high fantasy.