Among the Beasts and Briars by Ashley Poston (book review)
GENRE: YA fantasy LENGTH: 338 pages
Cerys lives in the kingdom of Aloryia which is surrounded by a cursed wildwood. When the curse escapes the woods and takes her people she must travel into the wildwoods along with her fox companion. They seek the mystical city of Voryn in the hopes of finding help.
Cerys is a loyal friend and dedicated daughter who carries with her a lot of survivor's guilt. A part of her longs for something more, but she also has a lot of fear of failure and the unknown. I got the sense that Poston intended Cerys' character to represent the idea that greatness/a hero(ine) can come from anywhere and anyone. Her personality reminds me a lot of Soraya who is the protagonist from Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust.
Fox only spends a little while as an actual fox before he is magically transformed into a human. He is mischievous but cowardly. He has a very playful but caring dynamic with Cerys that adds heart to the story.
Seren (a royal guard) was the most complex character. He towed the line between antagonist and anti-hero. He was both creepy and humorous.
The novel is told through dual first person perspectives; that of Cerys and Fox. Both are well done though Fox's reigned superior due to Poston's characterization of his transformation from fox to human. She perfectly captured his confusion, fear, and ever evolving human emotions.
Poston really knows how to paint a pretty picture with her words, so those who don't like 'flowery' writing may not enjoy this. I, however, am a poet and always appreciate when an author can bring a scene to life on the page like this. My one critique of her writing is that she has a tendency to sometimes be repetitive (though honestly I put that more on the editor than her).
This novel is a standalone which is much less common in fantasy than other genres. The novel can, in essence, be divided into sections. There is the introduction to everyone and the coronation, there is the time Cerys spends traveling through the wildwood (by far the best part in my opinion), and her time in the mystical city of Voryn.
My only real complaint was with the ending. There is a big epic scene and then that chapter ends on a cliffhanger. The final chapter catapults the reader six months into the future when everything is all nicely wrapped up. It was far too abrupt and disorienting.
The wildwoods has a very effectively creepy, skin crawling atmosphere. This is something I enjoy (and is reminiscent of Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, a favorite of mine), but if you're easily spooked it may not be for you. It reads a lot like a modern fairy tale and has that familiar enchanting bleakness/darkness as the originals. There is a body horror element which involves people transforming into grotesque monsters that some readers may find disturbing, so be warned about that.
Cerys' magic (her blood causes flowers to bloom) was well utilized and added another enchanting element to the novel. However, I wish there had been some clarity on why she was different from everyone else who the wildwoods touched. It also seemed like Poston expanded the limits and rules of her magic for story convenience purposes even when it didn't make sense.
I am really glad I read this book. I strongly suspected that it was going to be the perfect book for me because it has so many elements that I look for: I'm obsessed with fairy tales, I like foxes, I like books that deal with magical forests, and I'm a sucker for a pretty cover. Sometimes it just feels like a certain book is tailor made for you and that was the case with this one. I think if you're looking for a modern day fairy tale or a fantasy standalone then this is a great option.
FINAL RATING: 4.5 ⭐️