Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Horror, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bi/pansexual Black MC, secondary sapphic character
PoV: 1st-person, past-tense
Published on: 29th August 2023
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 received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~embrace your inner monster
~ballet is the fifth circle of hell
~the horror is not the supernatural
~let girls be not-nice (or else)
I finished I Feed Her to the Beast in a single sitting.
A SINGLE SITTING.
All 313 pages: gone. Gulped. Devoured.
I regret nothing.
This is a very tightly-written, well-paced book that sweeps over you like a scalpel across your throat, and the biggest part of that is definitely Laure herself. She is such a relief of a main character; a girl, a Black queer girl at that, who is sharp and obsessed and not-nice. But the blurb is a bit misleading, in my opinion; this is not a villain origin story, because Laure isn’t a villain. She’s not likable in the usual sense (although I adored her), isn’t soft and sweet, isn’t what most people would consider sympathetic and doesn’t want your sympathy, either, fuck you very much. She has so much anger in her, but it’s an anger she controls, and when she does gain supernatural power over others, she only uses it on people who really, really deserve it. She is ruthless, but only with herself; she drives herself in practise until her feet are bleeding, makes promises with supernatural entities but only bargains with things that are her own. She doesn’t hurt other people, doesn’t sacrifice others in exchange for magical power, doesn’t sabotage her peers to increase her own chances of success.
That makes her not-a-villain, in my book.
The world had let me starve for too long, and eventually, the hungry stop caring what we eat so long as we’re fed.
But she isn’t Nice, and gods damn that is awesome to see: let more girls be unlikable, especially girls of colour, please and thank you! Give me all the girls who’ll leap into a river of blood and bargain with monsters to get what they want; show me the girls who enjoy the power they win thus without shame, who revel in it. That’s what I want, and Shea delivers and delivers and delivers.
I was going to carve my name into the bones of this ballet.
And Laure isn’t even the only one: the rest of her ballet peers are, honestly, far worse than she is. In fact, the whole world of ballet is stripped of its delicate mystique by Shea’s merciless writing, and what’s revealed is naked horror: the backstabbing, the sabotage, the viciousness – and that’s only from Laure’s peers; the people running the show(s), deciding who makes the cut and why, are, frankly, fucking demonic.
I have never been so glad my mother let me quit ballet as when I was reading this book.
Being a ballerina meant hiding our sharp teeth and claws under pink ribbon and gentle movements, to only show the world perfection.
To be honest, if there’s any flaw in I Feed Her To the Beast, I think it’s that I never understood why Laure was so obsessed with ballet. From everything we see, it’s just needless suffering and cruelty; nothing about it is beautiful, nothing about it at all appeals. We never see anything that helps us understand why the ballet is worth everything it puts Laure through.
I didn’t know what it was like to have friends outside of ballet, people who didn’t care what position you held and how good you were. People who weren’t your competition. What was there to talk about, to gather round for, if not for battle? What was friendship and love without fighting?
(That might not be a flaw, though. That might be deliberate on Shea’s part. But I can’t really go there without going into spoilers.)
Alas, as usual I didn’t find the (supernatural) horror elements at all scary, but on the other hand, I flat-out adored Laure’s attraction to monstrousness and how completely and unselfconsciously she owned it, both in being drawn to things like the garden of toxic flowers, and when it came to kissing monsters.
“What if I told you I wanted to be my most monstrous self all the time? What if I wanted to be a god? Would you pray to me?”
FINALLY A GIRL WHO PREFERS THE BEAST TO THE PRINCE; I feel like I’ve been waiting for a character like Laure for DECADES, and nothing about her disappoints. Literally nothing.
Another thing I’ve been pining for almost forever: the dynamic between Laure and her love interest. It’s not dark – not by my standards, anyway; it’s not toxic, and they don’t hurt each other. (Much.) But Laure is very much the dominant one, the possessor, his queen and his goddess, and I will never not be heart-eyes for monster boys who worship at the feet of a girl with sharp teeth of her own.
“Of course I would pray to you.”
He even suffered beautifully, his gaze twinkling with awe as he stared up at me, beneath my boot poised to crush him. Beholding me, Laure, the ballerina who bested him, fearsome in my own right.
But to get back to the horror: no, ironically, and possibly intentionally, the whole river-of-blood thing isn’t where the horror in this book actually lies. The real horror is the racism and classism on full display amongst the other ballet dancers, the board and its donors, and even in the ‘friendship’ that has been Laure’s anchor for years. Some of it’s overt and some of it isn’t – some of it’s hidden like razor blades in cotton candy – but all of it is appalling, disgusting.
Maybe that’s part of why Laure never really looked like a monster to me: because she’s surrounded by people I’d actually consider monsters constantly, and next to them, she looks like a sweetheart.
The world didn’t know a Laure that was allowed to want and take.
This is very much a book about girls being allowed to want, to revel, to have power, to be not-nice. I think any reader raised as a girl is going to resonate with all the ways in which Laure has been taught to be gentle and sweet and say thank you for scraps – and will cheer as she finally lets her hunger out of its cage. But it’s almost heartbreaking that she considers herself a monster for that, even if she embraces monstrousness wholeheartedly – because nothing that she wants, or does, or becomes, is really monstrous. She’s ambitious, and obsessively driven, and she’s dominant sexually: so? She feels anger at everyone and everything who want to keep her down because she’s Black and poor and a girl: so? She refuses to give up and bow her head and be walked over: so? So fucking what? Is that all it takes to get a girl branded a monster?
I mean, we all know the answer to that question. But it is rage-inducing.
I Feed Her To the Beast and the Beast Is Me is an intoxicating power-fantasy for girls who don’t fit the NiceTM mould and have no interest in doing so. I devoured it, and it devoured me, and you can bet I will be there for every book Shea writes in the future, because this one is simply phenomenal.