The Beast Player is a vast, imaginative world built by one of Japan’s best fantasy writers [Review]

The Beast Player is a vast, imaginative world built by one of Japan’s best fantasy writers [Review]

The Beast Player
By Nahoko Uehashi
Published by Pushkin Children’s
ISBN 978 1 78269 167 9

Nahoko Uehashi is a writer of YA fantasy whose books have sold millions of copies in Japan. This new English edition of one of her best novels,The Beast Player, should introduce this imaginative and thrilling writer to fantasy fans around the world.

Uehashi’s novels are packed tight with invention, detail and story. They are up there with the best of fantasy fiction series. And this book is a thrilling way to begin a voyage of discovery into the extraordinary realms of this master storyteller.

Japanese fans have been treated to a manga version of the story and an anime TV series, and now, at last, an English translation of the original novel is available. It’s been a wait of almost 10 years, and global fantasy fans are in for a treat.


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Elin and her mother live in a small village, and in the opening chapters Uehashi expertly paints the landscape and rituals of Elin’s world. The inhabitants are Toda Stewards, whose job is looking after the dragon-like creatures, the Toda, that make up the Kingdom of Lyoza’s fearsome war machine. Elin knows little of the world outside her village, but she already feels a bond with the Toda that sets her apart from the other youngsters in the village.

Elin’s mother Sohyon is a beast doctor in charge of the Kiba, the most powerful of the Toda. When a mysterious illness suddenly kills the Kiba, panic breaks out among the stewards, and Sohyon, blamed for the deaths, is sentenced to death by drowning. Elin can do nothing to save her mother, but she manages to escape from the village before the stewards turn on her.


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This dramatic opening sets the scene for the adventures Elin is destined to face. She knows that she can communicate not only with the fearsome Toda but also with the Royal Beasts that guard Lyoza’s royal family. This puts her in great danger as civil war breaks out, and deadly plots threaten not only Elin herself but the whole kingdom.

The plot is vast and will satisfy even the most demanding fantasy lovers. The anime version of The Beast Player ran to 50 episodes, which gives some indication of the depth and detail of Uehashi’s vision. This isn’t a book for light reading.

This edition contains a feature that other fantasy publishers should follow. Even vigilant readers can get lost with the characters that crowd into novels like this, so the publishers have included a cast list at the front of the book, which is invaluable as the plot gathers momentum and complexity.

John Millen can be contacted on johnmillenbooks@gmail.com

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A vast, imaginative world built by one of Japan’s best fantasy writers

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