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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Beast Player (The)
by Nahoko Uehashi
Age Range: 12+
Ten-year-old Elin’s mother is a skilled beast doctor for the Toda, fearsome battle serpents who protect the kingdom. After some of the Toda die mysteriously Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment but her last act is to ensure that her young daughter reaches safety.
Elin is taken in by Joeun a beekeeper who discovers her washed up on the shore of a lake in the Sanolu County where he lives. Elin stays with Joeun learning how to care for the animals and discovering that she has a particular affinity with honeybees. As Elin grows into adulthood, she longs to become a beast doctor like her mother and enrols at the Kazalumu Royal Beast Sanctuary under the expert guidance of the headmistress Esalu. Here Erin discovers she has a unique gift of communicating with the majestic Royal Beasts that guard her queen and also the terrifying Toda.
Elin is a gentle, thoughtful and compassionate young woman but this belies a fiercely determined spirit. Her newfound skills provide her with great powers but also with ethical dilemmas and sometimes her heart rules her head which leads her into terrible danger. The political structure around her is fragile and with intrigue, at every turn, Erin is caught in the middle of it. Soon she must face a terrible choice between saving herself and preventing the Royal Beasts from being used as tools of war or face the terrible battles to come.
One of Japan’s most popular writers of teen fiction and a winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014 for her popular ‘Moribito’ series, author Nahoko Uehashi has written an utterly compelling and sophisticated fantasy novel which is full of complexity and beautiful thought-provoking prose which have been masterfully translated by award-winning Cathy Hirano. Uehashi skilfully juxtaposes fantasy with reality and a firm grounding in nature. Uehashi is a cultural anthropologist and professor and this influence clearly shows in the authentic descriptions of the fantastical creatures and their habitat as well as the world of nature that Erin inhabits, her learning about beekeeping is one example.
The Beast Player is already an international bestseller and it has been adapted into an anime series.
The second title in the series is The Beast Warrior.