Following your Head and your Heart: A Review of Beasts of Prey

Beasts of Prey
Ayana Gray
Penguin Random House/G.P. Putnam’s Sons
September 28, 2021
Ages 12+

Sixteen-year-old Koffi has been working at Baaz Mtombe’s Night Zoo for as long as she can remember. She and Mama are indentured servants, forced to work as beastkeepers to pay off their debts. After eleven years of servitude, Koffi and Mama have almost paid back what they owe and will soon be free. Seventeen-year-old Ekon has been training to become a Son of the Six—the city of Lkossa’s anointed warriors—since he was seven. Every male in his family has served the Sons of the Six, and now it is his turn to prove himself. Koffi and Ekon’s lives collide when a fire at the Night Zoo effectively destroys their respective paths. Looking to gain back what they lost, Koffi and Ekon find themselves with the same mission—capturing the Shetani. They must work together to search the Greater Jungle, filled with exotic species and monsters, and find the thing that’s been killing Lkossa’s people. But getting past their differences, navigating the dangers of the Jungle, and apprehending the Shetani will not be easy.  

Beasts of Prey is a Pan-African fantasy novel influenced by cultures, mythos, and folklore from across different regions of Africa. Gray brings Black culture to the forefront with a story made up of only Black characters. She describes the variations in Black features (skin color, hair type, hairstyles), and details about Black hair care (wash days, the use of shea butter). The language spoken in the novel is based on Swahili (a language of East Africa), and the mythological beings and creatures are from recorded folklore found on the African continent. Gray’s debut novel is a story about doing what’s right in the face of adversity, tackling problems head on, and accepting that life isn’t always black and white. Both Koffi and Ekon must choose between duty to family and following the truth. The author explores anxiety and mental health through multiple characters. Ekon counts in threes and taps at his side when he is nervous because he hasn’t dealt with his father’s death. Darajas, people that can draw splendor (magic) from the earth, can only do so if they do not suppress their emotions. Gray expertly illustrates this fantastical world, giving detailed descriptions of the Greater Jungle and its unfathomable creatures, like Anatsou (a spider with a human head and torso). The story is amazingly unpredictable, with a cliffhanger ending that leaves no doubt of a sequel.