The thrilling and eagerly-awaited first installment of an Africa-set YA fantasy trilogy has arrived
You might not know Ayana Gray’s work, but that’s all about to change.
Beasts of Prey, the 28-year-old’s fantasy debut, is one of the hottest young-adult books this fall. It’s also the start of a trilogy that promises to not only make bestseller lists, but should snap up awards and–most importantly–hook, entertain and satisfy readers.
Gray’s story is about two Black teens in a pan-African nation who team up to battle a monster in the jungle that their community has feared for years.
It’s a thrill-packed premise that Gray elevates with crisp prose, surefooted pacing and detail-rich worldbuilding. She weaves the markers of daily life, history and culture into scenes that crackle, painting her characters’ existence for her readers as clearly as she depicts physical action and emotional depth.
It’s undeniably powerful storytelling, skill that’s fueled a cover reveal and advance excerpts on Oprah’s web site, a Barnes & Noble-exclusive edition with bonus content and places on multiple “most-anticipated” lists for fall, books’ biggest season. Days before publication, Netflix announced that it had bought adaptation rights for feature film development.
Koffi has magic she doesn’t quite understand yet how to wield. We first meet her tending her assigned creature, hopeful for the first time in years that she’s about to start a new chapter. She and her mother are indentured servants at a Night Zoo in fictional Lkossa, run by the cruel, unscrupulous Baaz Mtombé, but they’ve almost paid off their debt.
Ekon is part of the Okojo family, born to be warriors. But he prefers books and learning to the fierce ways of his lineage. His anxiety is ever-present, causing him to repeatedly tap and count to calm his body and mind. On the night he’s scheduled for induction into the elite Sons of the Six, his ceremony derails due to a fire at the zoo.
That’s also when Koffi and Ekon meet, as Koffi runs from Ekon and other Six soldiers. The night sets in motion the series’ monster-hunting framework. And the Shetani is certainly a fearsome beast to behold: “The creature she’d laid eyes on had been a thing built from nightmares, a mass of raw pink skin stretched tight over tendons and bone. She envisioned the knifelike teeth and bottlebrush tail, the way each of its black claws had curled in the earth as it tensed.”
What makes Beasts of Prey sing, though, are the emotions Gray plumbs below the surface. As Ekon mulls his failures towards the novel’s start, kindly Brother Ego quotes a bit of wisdom from an elder: “Nightmares hunt like beasts of prey, vanquished in the light of day.”
“Those beasts of prey represent our worldly troubles,” Brother Ego goes on to explain. “Often, we run from painful things and hope that they will tire of chasing us. But in truth, avoiding our troubles simply gives them more sustenance, allowing them to eventually consume us whole. Only when we cast light on them and acknowledge them can they truly be vanquished, allowing our spirits to be free.”
Brother Ego’s words signal that this immersive tale will give readers much more than monster-fighting thrills. It’s a depth that Gray–whose path to publication began with #DVPit, the Twitter pitch event for marginalized writers, and who drew on her time studying in Ghana as part of Beasts of Prey’s inspiration–wields with precision.
(Sept. 28, 2021, Putnam/Penguin)