I’d intended to have this review up nearly a week ago but illness and then finals side railed it. There have been some books in the last six months where I’ve not been able to get reviews posted due to Life Happening, and by the time I’d managed to fine and/or make the time, I no longer had any interest in writing the reivew.
This is not one of those books. And I would like to thank Eva Eldridge of Wordfire Press for the review copy.
Beasts of Tabat is a refreshing fantasy with a steampunk level technology, all manner of magical beasts, swordplay, plenty of intrigue, and one of the most original political situations I’ve seen. It’s also Cat Rambo’s first novel, not like it reads like a first novel or anything. It doesn’t.
There are two viewpoint characters. The first is Teo, who is a Shifter from an isolated village up north. Shifters are feared and hated by Humans and Beasts alike. Only Teo can’t change form, so he’s something of an outcast among his people. His little sister is deathly ill, and his parents make a deal with a priest. Heal her, and they’ll give Teo to the Temple. In other words, he’s been sold to buy his sister’s life. Now his life will be one of indentured servitude in the Temple.
Of course, I’m not spoiling any major surprises by telling you that he escapes. One of the few pleasures in Teo’s life is reading his world’s equivalent of dime novels about a famous gladiator, Bella Kanto.
Bella is a seriously flawed character. She’s been the city of Tabat’s champion for years. At the end of each winter, the City’s champion takes the role of Winter and is challenged by another gladiator playing the part of Spring. If Spring (the gladiator) wins, then winter (the season) ends on schedule and the gladiator playing Spring takes on the role of Winter the following year. If Winter (the gladiator) wins, then spring (the season) is delayed for another six weeks and the winning gladiator continues in the role of Winter. Kinda like Groundhog Day with swords, blood, and possible death.
Bella has been Winter for years. People are starting to hate her for always winning, as well as her refusal to step aside or throw the match. Bella moves in all sorts of circles, including the highest of nobility. Nobility who will soon have to be stepping down to allow elections to take place. Understandably, there’s much unrest in the city.
Bella not only moves in all sorts of circles, she sleeps her way through many of them. One could argue that she has the morals of an alley cat. She’s even willing to allow herself to be seduced by one of the young women in the fencing school where she’s co-owner.
There were some aspects of her character that I found distasteful, but Bella is one of the more complex characters I’ve encountered in a book in quite a while.
Be advised, this is the first volume of a tetralogy. It ends with both Teo and Bella in some very bad spots. I’m not sure I would have read the book if I had known the ending was going to be what it was. Now I’ve got to wait for the next book. (I hate waiting.)
If you are looking for something a little different, especially character driven, then you’ll want to check this one out. I’m going to read some of the Tabat short stories while I wait for Hearts of Tabat. (Did I mention I hate waiting?)