I was captivated by Morgan Keyes' original 2012 "Darkbeast" novel, and was very eager to read the follow-up, "Darkbeast Rebellion". It was all I'd hoped for.
If you haven't read "Darkbeast" yet, you certainly must. This will introduce you to the three key human characters in "Rebellion". There's Keara of Silver Hollow, the story's narrator, the twelve-year-old who flouts convention and runs away from her home village. There's Goran Trader, another twelve-year-old, as close to Keara as a brother. And there's Taggart Trader, Goran's maternal grandfather, like an adoptive father to Keara.
The three have one crucial thing in common: They have spared their darkbeasts, animal companions who have been mind-linked to them since the age of twelve days. According to the religious laws of the land of Duodecia, they should have sacrificed their animal friends on their twelfth birthday as a rite of passage to adulthood -- but, out of friendship and love, they could not bring themselves to do it.
(Keara's companion, a magnificent black raven named Caw, with an insatiable, "ravenous" appetite, is the fourth major protagonist, an important character in his own right.)
At the start of "Darkbeast Rebellion", the three humans and their companions are fleeing from the Inquisition in bitter cold, winter weather. Keara is so numb she is ready to lie down and die, while Taggart is developing a dangerous cough -- he is getting a bit too old for this kind of punishment. Goran, to encourage Keara, gives her a precious gift, a bracelet which once belonged to his mother. This plays an important role throughout the rest of the story.
The three humans are seeking a rumored place of refuge deep in the woods inhabited by Darkers, other rebels who have also spared their darkbeasts and are in hiding. Morgan's writing is so vivid that I found myself shivering -- never mind it was a lovely 80-degree day outside, and my room was getting a bit stuffy.
Our friends find their refuge early in the story, but right away Keara is worried: Caw senses that the telepathic bonds between their rescuers and their darkbeasts don't feel "right". Keara tries to warn her friends, but they don't see any problem. They fail to understand why she won't warm to the others.
Soon enough, things will get very, very interesting, in an alarming sort of way.
Some scenes get really intense. Surely, I kept thinking, in a book geared towards readers age 10 through 14, nothing really horrible will happen to our friends. Surely. But what if something does? I couldn't put the book down, wondering what would happen next.
One of the most important themes of this book, and its predecessor, is loyalty. First of all, there is the bond between human and darkbeast. This will prove to be a crucial test for a certain character later in the book. But then, there is loyalty between humans, strained by acts of betrayal on the part of others.
Keara will meet someone who appears to be an ally, but this time it's Taggart and Goran who don't trust him. And for good reason -- he's in a very good position to hurt them badly, should he so choose. But will he? Will Keara side with him against her friends? Will they ever find a place where they can be truly safe? Will they be allowed to stay?
Everything that was in the first novel is present in the second: Warm, believable protagonists, but also very believable villains. And that very vivid style of writing. While I could anticipate how the story would end, it still left me happy, and wanting more.
I do hope there will be a third book in this series.