Updated: Oct 10
There will be blood.
Ace of Spades meets House of Hollow in this villain origin story.
Laure Mesny is a perfectionist with an axe to grind. Despite being constantly overlooked in the elite and cutthroat world of the Parisian ballet, she will do anything to prove that a Black girl can take center stage. To level the playing field, Laure ventures deep into the depths of the Catacombs and strikes a deal with a pulsating river of blood.
The primordial power Laure gains promises influence and adoration, everything she’s dreamed of and worked toward. With retribution on her mind, she surpasses her bitter and privileged peers, leaving broken bodies behind her on her climb to stardom.
But even as undeniable as she is, Laure is not the only monster around. And her vicious desires make her a perfect target for slaughter. As she descends into madness and the mystifying underworld beneath her, she is faced with the ultimate choice: continue to break herself for scraps of validation or succumb to the darkness that wants her exactly as she is—monstrous heart and all. That is, if the god-killer doesn’t catch her first.
From debut author Jamison Shea comes I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me, a slow-burn horror that lifts a veil on the institutions that profit on exclusion and the toll of giving everything to a world that will never love you back.
I'm sitting at my desk, typing this up, and wondering if I have the words to properly explain how much I loved this book.
I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me (we'll call her Beast for short) is a triumph of a debut. I would've given this book a standing ovation and a bouquet of roses by the end if I could.
Jamison Shea has done something between these pages that I so desperately desire to do in my own work. They wrote an unapologetically ambitious, black, main character who was willing to bleed (literally) to achieve her goals. Laure is never disillusioned about what it takes or what she has the stomach to endure on her way to becoming a star of the Paris Ballet. In fact, she states time and time again that she'll do anything. Practice until she collapses. Bleed into her shoes and risk losing toenails. Fry her hair to straw in order to fit the mold of the perfect ballerina.
All this before she even makes her deal with an eldritch river god.
The way in which Shea has given this character the space to reach for her dreams with wicked thoughts and clawed fingertips is something that we don't see in literature often (read: hardly ever). This is so important for young black teens to have an example of, whether realistic or fantastical. These are young people who don't always get to see someone who looks like they do, live in their dedication, determination, and drive, beyond the basketball court or a football field. Laure's journey touches on so many of the struggles and frustrations that come with being black in an industry that is not only harshly unwelcoming, it tells you that you do not belong. The way to overcome that might not be to dive into a river of blood in exchange for power, but that's not what readers will take away from this beast of a book!
Readers will witness the rage and wrath of an angry girl, exhausted from all the many micro-aggressions, and the macro-aggressions, clear the path to her own success. And while there are several haters in the peanut gallery, including her closest friend Coralie, there's not much standing in her way once she takes the reins of her career in her own hand. Except for some mysterious force that is killing others like her. Other people who've made faustian deals for something they want.
Which brings me to some of the horrific aspects of this book. Once given, Laure utilizes her power with whip-like precision. Her reactions to cruel comments and immature pranks end in some broken bones (and bruised egos). She can literally bend those around her to her will. And part of her loves it. To her that's the part that feels most monstrous, the part of her that enjoys the power. To me, the monstrous part of her story is the fact that she was made to feel like she had no other option. The overt racism, the passive aggressive-isms, scraping and scrounging with just enough to get by beyond the financial expenses it costs to be a ballerina never mind the emotional and physical tolls. With all that presented before me, it became very easy for me to root for Laure, despite the actual monster-like features that began to manifest the further she dug into her power.
I think the most nuanced part of this book might be the underlying romantic arc. Laure's interest in Andor took a backseat in a way I can appreciate, even as a romance lover. This was Laure's time, through and through. Ultimately, the focus was on what she wanted and eventually that did include the soft and caring, but equally as monstrous, artist. However, the relationship never overshadowed our main character's other desires. Given the way romance as a sub-genre has taken over the young adult space, it felt almost refreshing. Shea gave us just enough yearning to appreciate the potential between the characters without taking away from the other conflicts within the plot.
And finally, the plot TWIST and the endings did not disappoint. Like a climax in a concerto, the action ramped up toward the end of the book, and rightfully so. The stakes were keenly laid out and as a reader I understood the risks Laure would take, so when she decided on a ballsy answer to her biggest threat yet, it propelled me to the edge of my seat. Every morsel of the conflict that had been building slowly throughout the book had been worth the showdown at the end. If you like B I G scenes, like I do, then get your popcorn ready! All of this leads to the moment I didn't know I was waiting for, the revelation of the title. The execution of "I fed her to the beast, and the beast was me,..." felt that much more satisfying when I got there.
Shea's writing is exquisite. Their prose is poetic, their word choice is lethal, and their characterization is fierce. This book is an impressive way to launch what I'm sure will be a long-standing career, years from now.
I received an e-arc from the publisher so thank you Macmillian and Fierce Reads!
I recommend this book to anyone who loves Black Swan, Susperia, Tiny Pretty Things, Ace of Spades, or if you just love a damn good and well-written book!