Wednesday, May 21, 2014
'Beast-Speaker' by W.A. Noble
In the city of Midrash everything serves the military machine. Even the dragons – noble beasts whose world-view is governed by their honour – have been manipulated and deceived. They do not realise this will lead to their eventual extinction as a species. The Midrashi also kidnap children from other cities and force them into their army. When Seeger and Boyd become their latest victims, they struggle to maintain their humanity in this cruel and corrupt city. Will their friendship endure? Will they ever find their way home?
Boys like Seeger and his best friend, Boyd, are happy in their homeland of Seddon, except for one thing. Young children are sometimes mysteriously kidnapped without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again. One night, although they are older than most victims, being in their early teens, it happens to them. Finding out what it's all about opens up a world of horror they'd never imagined.
Midrash is a foreign nation whose brutal militia steal the innocent children of foreigners to train as soldiers in their army. This way they are able to spare their own juveniles as well as weakening the morale of the nations whose children they have taken. The child-soldiers serve as a diversion to their enemies, giving the mature army a chance to move in. And perhaps the biggest benefit to Midrash is that some of the foreign children survive to be obedient and fierce fighters. Sacrificing some sensitive children as examples to the others is to their benefit.
I was shocked and horrified several times. My youngest is ten and the thought of this happening to him is horrendous to contemplate. Usually I shy away from descriptions of atrocities happening to children, but I pressed through the emotions and found a celebration of the human spirit's resilience in this book. Even when evil appears to triumph because it's big, bad and ruthless, there's something about love and its side-effects, such as loyalty and goodness, which can't be snuffed.
The story is all about Seeger making friends with the dragons, who are noble beasts with a similar history of exploitation by the Midrashi. Although he'd known his father was a 'beast speaker', one who can communicate telepathically with the animals, he didn't realise he possessed the skill too until he needed it. There is an element of humour and mateship, despite the heinous conditions, and even a bit of romance.
The narrative switches back and forth between Seeger and Boyd. We see Boyd consciously harden himself and quench his softer side, as becoming like his captors seems the only way to stay alive. Even so, he recognises the innate goodness in his friend, Seeger, remembers the pact they made to look out for one another, and can't deny the hope he inspires.
Perhaps my favourite line came from the camels, who were also friends with the dragons. 'It doesn't matter how, or where you die, it's how you live that's the important thing.'
Beast-speaker (The Flight) available from Amazon