The premise of this book is what hooked me. Morgan Keyes creates a world in her novel, Darkbeast, in which all young people are literally assigned dark beasts. They could be frogs, snakes, rats, or as in the case of Keara, a raven. This creature is presented to them when they are twelve days old and it is intended to magically remove all their evil deeds and emotions like anger, pride, and jealousy. Keara names her darkbeast Caw, and when her twelfth birthday arrives she is faced with a problem. All children must ceremoniously kill their darkbeasts at the age of twelve. The ritual is intended to mark their entrance into adulthood at which time they leave behind all their evil deeds.
The assignment of an animal to each child reminded me of the animal partnerships characters had in Rowling's Harry Potter series and I thought it was a very clever and engaging idea of Keyes to extend that natural interest children have to animals in her story.
The main character, Keara, faces the challenge of whether or not she will destroy her darkbeast when the time comes. For most children in the fictional world of Silver Hollow, the day cannot come soon enough when they get to destroy their darkbeasts. But Keara is different. She has bonded with Caw and finds herself willing to risk her own safety and her family's safety in order to spare her companion.
The story is set in world in which the gods have led Inquisitors to enforce the law of the land which includes hefty taxes on everyone's head, strict dogmatic worship, and accepting a life of simple poverty in exchange for the safety provided by the Inquisitors. Keara dares to challenge the status quo and tries to find a safe place to escape with her darkbeast, but can there be a safe place when all the land is under the control of the Inquisitors?
Overall, I would recommend this book for kids in the age range of ten to fourteen and I think teachers would enjoy leading students through this novel to explore such themes as: rebellion and when it can be justified to rebel from authority or even what it means to be brave. Keyes has followed this book with a sequel.