Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi is an intriguing story about a world where people can be purified of their sins by having a Mage draw that guilt from out of their bodies. These drawn-out sins manifest as varying types of monsters, depending on the gravity of the fault. To prevent these sin-beasts, these “inisisa,” from escaping and killing the townsfolk in their rampagings, a group of people known as “aki,” the sin-eaters, exist to eliminate the problem.
Aki are not born with the ability to Eat sins. Rather, it comes upon them like a curse, turning their eyes white and making them outcasts from their own homes. Aki are trained in the art of fighting the inisisa, and are often called in to assist Mages, people who have learned how to draw sin out of a person and bring it into the physical world. Aki exist to kill these beasts, and once the monster has been defeated and transformed into a shadow, the aki “Eats” the remains of the monster, absorbing the guilt of that sin and bearing it as a tattoo, a sin-spot, on their bodies.
I was really intrigued by this novel. It had a terrific plot, a cliffhanger ending begging for the continuation of the story in book two, and a likable main character. Taj, a brown-skinned boy with more tattoos than any of the other aki, is fiery, tempestuous, fierce, and loyal. I liked that he was just a street boy, nothing fancy, someone disgruntled at the arrogance of the royals and their privilege of being “pure” of sin, while he had to endure being thought of as a pariah because he bore others’ sins on his body.
This is not a magic magic fantasy, with wizards wielding magic or characters waving wands. Rather, the fantasy element lay in the aki and the Mages, and the existence of the sin-beasts. It’s refreshingly plot- and character-driven, with an authentic setting and very little romance. I can see it appealing to readers of The Winner’s Curse or Six of Crows.
Review of an Advance Reading Copy
This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Razorbill
Profanity/Language: None (Characters occasionally swear by the Unnamed).
Violence/Gore: Two male characters battle a monster called an inisisa (sin-beast); a character kills a sin-beast and “Eats” the shadow it leaves behind; there are a couple instances where aki are ritualistically killed for proper burial after a failed Eating; a character draws a knife on another; a character is described having prosthetic limbs; a character is menaced by a crowd and threatened with violence; characters discuss killing and eating inisisa; a character sometimes suffers the guilt of a sin he has Eaten; characters “baptize” towns by destroying them; in an extended scene, a character is caught in a raid and has a flashback of how he was captured years ago in a similar raid, while people flee, a person is seen trapped under rubble, and there are skirmishes between peasants and soldiers; a character burns himself with hot tea; a character gets angry at someone for talking about the “sin-spot” tattoos received from successful Eatings; characters cut their hands for a coming-of-age ceremony; a character taunts another with a knife; characters occasionally “vomit out” sins for aki to fight; in an extended scene, a character fights an inisisa and is wounded, while another character kills the sin-beast and suffers the painful effects from Eating it, then two characters are ordered to be arrested, with one escaping; a character is pursued; a character falls off a rooftop; there is a report of a city’s destruction; a character’s new sin-spot causes intense pain; soldiers pursue a character; a character has a broken ankle; a character recalls a sin-eater healing his mother; a character purposely confronts and belittles a bullying soldier; characters sometimes have verbal and physical fights; characters are occasionally threatened with imprisonment, punishment, death, etc.; a character begins to have intense nightmares; a character relates past violence in her life; a character is attacked by and attacks a sin-beast; a character has episodic numbness from the effects of sin-eating; a female character warns a male character about a conspiracy; a character’s injuries are briefly described after a battle with an inisisa; characters plot to kidnap someone; characters discuss a plot that could get them hanged for treason; an inisisa attacks soldiers; a character is killed; a character thinks he is “crossing” into death; a character commands a sin-beast to stop attacking people, and then kills it; in an extended scene, aki battle innumerable inisisa unleashed on a city, with some character being killed by the sin-beasts, some killing the sin-beasts, and some description of the deaths and injuries; a character condemns her brother as being a murderer before a crowd; a mythical creature appears to destroy the inisisa, which will result in the destruction of the town as well; characters are revealed as traitors; two male characters fight each other, with one character wounded repeatedly with a dagger; characters are pursued by an army.
Sex/Nudity: A girl’s tunic flips up, revealing a patch of skin; it is implied that a story of a prince getting caught in a lady’s bedchamber pertains to an actual person; a female character sometimes touches a male character’s sin-spots; a male character has daydreams about a female character; a male character undresses for a bath, with his female guard in attendance (not sexual); a female character squeezes a boy’s hand; a girl traces the tattoo on a boy’s back (not overly sexual); a character states she has been “unsexed”; a male and female character touch and kiss; a boy embraces a girl; a male character holds a female character; a male and female character stand close together; a female character holds a male character in her arms and they kiss; a male character thinks of a female character as being his heart-mate; a female character wraps her arms around a male character’s arms.
Mature Subject Matter:
Gossip, social outcasts, death of friends, murder, illegal drug, treason, underage drinking, betrayal.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Underage kids smoke pipes; underage kids snort powdered gemstones, the equivalent of illegal drugs; a character snorts a dry powder; underage characters occasionally drink.