Today I am delighted to share a review for Ben Parker’s LGBTQ YA novel, Beetlebrow. This little adventure is jam packed with action, has just enough romance to pull at the heart strings, and that hint of magic to blur the lines between fiction and fantasy.
Author: Ben Parker
Publisher: The Conrad Press
Publication Date: April 27, 2016
Genre: Fiction, YA, Fantasy, Adventure
Themes: Family, Friendship, Abuse, Poverty, Class Stratified Society, Survival, Epic Quests
My Rating: 4/ 5
Two sixteen-year-old girls are struggling to survive in the poverty-stricken streets of Stellingkorr. Beetlebrow – devastated by the death of her mother – meets Pook – newly escaped from her drunken parents.
The two girls scale the walls of the royal palace in search of work. King Ancissus – impressed with their ingenuity and skill – tasks them with delivering a cryptic message to the distant eastern city of Dalcratty. Success could save Stellingkorr; failure could mean starvation for its people.
Beetlebrow and Pook are forced to lie, fight and steal to keep heading east. Through the violence and squalor of towns and arid plains, army camps and prisons, they have only each other to depend upon.
“Beetlebrow”, the first book of “The Beetlebrow Trilogy”, is the gritty debut novel from Ben Parker. In this epic coming-of-age fantasy, two bold and fearless young women find a love they could never have imagined.
I’ll begin this review with a huge shout out to Ben Parker, for not only getting in touch with me through MiniMac Reviews but also sending a paperback all the way to Canada. You see, Canada post is reeeeaaaalllyyy slow, so most of my book love comes in the ePub and Mobi format (which is love as well), so it was a special treat to get a nice, crisp, new book in the mail! Thank you Mr. Parker, your generosity and patience has been greatly appreciated!
And after all of that effort, I am ashamed to say that this baby languished a little longed than I had anticipated on the TBR pile. Now, I love me some fantasy and adventure books, but I have to be in the right frame of mind to truly enjoy certain themes and genres. As a result, the first two times I picked Beetlebrow up I had that ‘not yet’ feeling and placed it back on the TBR for when the timing was right. But the third time I picked it up, everything just seemed to click and I simply couldn’t stop reading!
Beetlebrow is the kind of character that you can’t help but feel for. Not only is she young, impoverished, and later homeless but her family circumstances and societal restrictions made her predicament exponentially worse. But despite these setbacks, I was drawn to her kind heart, quick wit, and even her street urchin tendencies. I really expected her to be the kingdom’s underdog hero because she had all the right stuff for it, but the ways in which she lived up to that title were completely unexpected and left me cheering out loud.
The premise of the quest isn’t all together new, but the benefit to that was that I knew that I would enjoy the book from the outset. And let’s face it, it’s a tale as old as time and yet it’s still relevant – the elite of a kingdom are bleeding it’s people dry, the common folk are in revolt and have engaged in a full scale rebellion, and two orphan children have set out to change their lives and end up changing the world. If that isn’t the foundation for a modern fairy tale I don’t know what is! Now add in a healthy dose of adventure, a love that has to be hidden from the world, and evil half brother, and a nearly impossible task and you’ve really got something.
I had a much harder time connecting to Pook as I found her to be a rather passive character. But as this story revolves around Beetlebrow I was willing to let her have a damsel in distress without too much complaining, especially since Pook’s character ending up getting me in the feels when her back story finally came out of the woodwork. Once I understood a little about her history, Pook’s decisions and reactions were a lot easier to understand. I look forward to seeing how her character will grow and develop in books two ad three of the trilogy as I think there are a lot of interesting places she can go!
I really appreciated how it wasn’t an easy process for the girls to complete there quest. The faced censure, stigma, and some serious repercussions from their families and law along the way. And I would have to say this applies equally to delivering their message and their romance. While we have come a long way in terms of acceptance, I am sure that the fear of repercussion is something that will resonate with young readers who are facing, or have faced, similar situations in their own lives. And for those that haven’t, I hope it helps to open their eyes to some of the challenges faced every day by young people in the LGBTQ community.
I enjoy that the girls enjoyed a happy ending, but that their relationship wasn’t without trials and tribulations. I appreciated too, how some of the drama stemmed from the fact that one of the girls was more experienced than the other, which is often an issue in many relationships regardless of age. And as a cis reader, this really made their story relatable and easy to engage with. And that fairytale feeling is bolstered by the fact that the girls ran away with one another after a chance encounter. Like all good fairytales there isn’t any time for a proper courtship, and the details of the love story get hammered out after the adventure is well under way.
Finally, I really loved the variety of villains in Beetlebrow. From Alder and Joe for being entitled manipulators, Prince Tyvan for locking away his wife rather than divorcing her, the King for being greedy and disinterested in his people, and Gregory who pursues the girls across the land but turns out to be something else all together. I was constantly surprised by little twists that I never saw coming and absolutely loved being kept on my toes.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It’s well written, engaging, and offers plenty of adventure. I know that it won’t appeal to everyone, but if you like adventure and plucky heroines you should definitely give this one a try! And while Beetlebrow stands nicely on it’s own, I can’t wait for the next to books in the trilogy to be released!
Many thanks to Ben Parker for providing a hard copy in exchange for an honest review, and also for his unending patience in getting that review posted when my life got a little crazy!