The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale
I thought going into this book that I would be reading a new retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I was wrong. The main character, Alys, was also a little younger than I typically read - she ranged between 8 - 15 years old throughout the story.
As I mentioned, this was not a retelling Beauty and the Beast, although a Beast is involved. I was still drawn into the story though, beginning with twin sisters who turn evil and begin soul-sucking their way through villages. It's explained that the cause of this evil was the abandonment of their father, but they barely know who he is before they begin their soul-sucking rampage. All of this is explained in the first chapter.
The result of these first scenes place Alys in a a village with a puritanical religion of good vs evil that the whole village abides by. Rooted in their fear, the villagers condemn the children to watch over them at night, refusing to truly accept them within their society. Throughout the action, Alys struggles with the fact that she alone has an unexplained connection to the soul eaters and the mythical beast, who is neither good nor bad, but the essence of the earth.
There's also a nice use of nursery rhyme throughout the story to understand the the villages where Alys grew up.
The story dances around the idea of magic, without explaining where it originated. It never expains how Alys has the same soul eating magic of the twin girls, or why she is the only one that can see the beast.
Except in matters of the heart, Alys reasons are very mature. She struggles with her identity, definition of family, rebellions and discerning good from evil within the religious puritanical society she lives in.
There is a pretty G rated romance that comes on too forced and too quick. But otherwise, this was a easy to devour.
The writing and way the plot unfolded reminded me of novels by Robin McKinley. (The Blue Sword is one of my favorite novels, so this is high praise.)