The Beast Is an Animal

The Beast Is an Animal

by Peternelle van Arsdale


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A girl with a secret talent must save her village from the encroaching darkness in this “achingly poetic” (Kirkus Reviews) and deeply satisfying tale.

Alys was seven the first time she saw the soul eaters.

These soul eaters are twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly grew into something not quite human. And they feed off of human souls. When her village was attacked, Alys was spared and sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think he is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481488426
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 03/06/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 490,827
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Peternelle van Arsdale is a book editor, essay and short story writer, and the author of The Beast Is an Animal and The Cold Is in Her Bones. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is at work on her third novel. Visit her at

Read an Excerpt

The Beast Is an Animal

  • Nights were long for Alys.

    And they were always the same. Her mother washed her and dropped her flannel nightshift over her head. She tucked Alys between linen sheets and under wool blankets that felt heavy on Alys’s restless limbs. Then came Alys’s night-long entrapment by darkness and quiet and the absence of sleep.

    Alys looked longingly after Mam as she left the room. Mam turned back once and smiled at Alys, then closed the door behind her, snuffing the glow of light from the warm kitchen. Alys imagined her father sitting out there, pipe in mouth, toes near the fire. Then she lay in bed listening to the sounds of the house fall around her—the low murmur of her parents, the clattering of a dish, the footsteps on wood floors.

    Then silence.

    She could hear them breathing. Mam’s soft sighs, Dad’s snores, a moan.

    Alys was seven now, and she’d been this way for as long as she could remember. She dreaded the night.

    If only she were allowed to get out of bed. It was the knowing that she couldn’t get out, that was what made sleeping so impossible for her. Told to lie still and sleep, Alys felt the strongest urge to do exactly otherwise. Her eyes instead flew open and stayed that way. She had no siblings so she couldn’t know this for sure, but she’d been told that she was an odd child this way, that most children knew to give in to sleep when the time came. Alys could not do this.

    Alys decided that this night would be different. This night, when the sighs and the snoring rose in the air, she would declare an end to her nights of entrapment. She would make the night her own.

    She waited long after silence fell, just to be sure. Then she dropped her feet to the cold wood floor. It was end of summer, near harvest, and although the days were still warm, already she sniffed autumn in the air. She found her woolen stockings and boots, a wool overdress. She was not a child who needed to be told what to wear. Mam always told Alys that she was sensible that way.

    Alys wasn’t being sensible now. This wasn’t the wisest night for her to wander. She knew this, and yet she couldn’t stop herself. She’d made a plan, and after so much waiting, after such a long imprisonment, she refused to wait another night. She couldn’t wait. She wouldn’t. Not even after what had happened last night with the farmer and his wife, nor the night before that, when the wolves came and ate up all the chickens, and goats, and horses in the entire village of Gwenith. Alys was sad about Mam’s chickens. They were so sweet and warm in her lap, and they laid such nice eggs.

    Alys had heard her parents talk about the farmer and his wife, the ones who were dead. They lived way out on the edge of the village, nearly to the fforest. Mam had said the only reason they were found at all is that someone thought the farmer might know what had happened to all the animals. Mam said that surely all that bloodshed was the work of a witch, and that was where the other witch and her twin girls had lived. And then Dad said that just because you had married one witch, didn’t mean you had married another. Mam disagreed, and said she supposed it did mean that very thing, because then why else was the farmer dead? And weren’t Mam’s own dead chickens proof they were all being punished for that man’s sins and whatever he and his wife had been getting up to out there where no one could see them? Then Dad had given Mam a look, and Mam realized that Alys was listening, and well . . . that was the end of that.

    Alys should have been afraid of the wolves and the idea of a witch being married to a farmer, but she wasn’t. Alys, in fact, had never been afraid. Her favorite nursery rhymes were the scary ones. The ones about The Beast sucking out your soul and leaving behind nothing but gristle and skin. Those were the ones Alys liked best. When her friend Gaenor squealed and shut her eyes and clapped her hands over her ears, Alys just laughed and kept singing. Sometimes she’d promise Gaenor she’d stop, and just at the moment Gaenor trusted Alys enough to drop her hands from her ears and open her eyes again, Alys would continue:

    The Beast, It will peek in on you

    When you’re fast asleep

    Open up

    Invite It in

    And oh your Mam will weep

    Alys stepped out of her room, listened again for Mam and Dad’s breathing. Then she was through the kitchen and out the kitchen door before she could think twice or change her mind.

    The air was chill and moist and open around her. And the sky, oh the sky. It was awash in stars.

    Alys looked up at the sky, felt lifted up by it. She turned to see how it might look different, to catch parts of it that she couldn’t bend her head back far enough to see. It was lovely to be so free, everyone in the village asleep, and Alys not even trying to sleep. If she could spend every night this way, Alys thought to herself, she’d have no reason to dread it anymore.

    Standing in Mam and Dad’s kitchen yard, Alys began to feel hemmed in again. She could sense the house rising up behind her, the coop and the barn on either side of her. And she knew that through the darkness rose their neighbors’ houses. What Alys wanted was a fallow field—a stretch of tall grass that she could feel spreading out all around her as far as her eye could see through the dark. And Alys knew where just such a field lay. She only had to get herself to the road, follow it out of the village, and there it was, big and wide and bordered only by fforest that was even bigger and wider than the field.

    Her legs carried her through the dark. She held her arms out to either side, felt the night air float over and around her. She was alone but not lonely.

    Then the field. In she walked, feeling the long grass brush her skirts, scratch and tickle even through her stockings. No longer could she feel any kind of structure around her. When she reached the center of the field, she looked up again at the stars. The sky was an endless bowl tipped over, the stars pouring down on her like grains of light. She opened her eyes wide to take them in.

    She felt them before she saw them—the women.

    It wasn’t that they made a sound. It was more the way they didn’t make a sound that attracted Alys’s notice, the sense of a presence without bodies attached. But they did have bodies, she saw. These women. These women made of mud and leaves. They floated through the grass and they saw Alys with their wide gray eyes that glowed even in the night, as if they were lit from within.

    And still Alys wasn’t afraid. Curious, yes. Alys had never seen women like these before. They weren’t village women—at least not from any village that Alys had ever heard of. They didn’t even look like travelers. Travelers were odd-looking sorts, but these women were odder. They looked, it occurred to Alys, more like trees than women.

    And then they were near her, next to her, standing either side of her and each resting a hand of mud and clay on her shoulders. They were slim, and although they were much taller than she, Alys realized that they weren’t women at all. They were still girls. Older than Alys, but maybe not so much older. Not mothers, certainly.

    “What is your name?” Only one of the girls said it, and yet it seemed like both of them did. Alys felt a kind of energy pass through her shoulders, a shivery thread connecting their hands.

    “I’m Alys.”

    “Alys, go to sleep,” the other said.

    When the other said it, Alys felt an instant tug in her eyes, like a curtain being pulled. But no, Alys thought, that wasn’t what she wanted. She sent the curtain flying up again, opened her eyes wider. “But I don’t want to sleep,” Alys said.

    “There is no fear in this one, Benedicta.” The girl sniffed the air around Alys. She had been sniffed by Gaenor’s dog just like that.

    “No, there is no fear, Angelica.”

    Benedicta. Angelica. Alys had never heard those names before. She thought they were beautiful. And there was something beautiful about these owl-eyed girls, their long dark hair tangled with branches and leaves.

    Then they left her. Just as quickly as they came, the girls floated on. Out of the field and into the dark, disappearing at a point off in the distance that told Alys nothing about where they were going.

  • Customer Reviews

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    The Beast Is an Animal 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
    book_junkee More than 1 year ago
    I was 100% in on this book. I loved the cover and the synopsis and yet I literally have no idea what I just read. I liked Alys well enough. She's smart and curious and cares for the people around her. There were several other characters, but no one really stood out. The story line was a bit too vague. I spent a good portion of the beginning feeling like I was dropped in the middle of s story. Nothing was explained, yet it seemed like I was already supposed to know the backstory. I'm giving it two stars because something compelled me to keep reading. It is quite atmospheric and I did enjoy parts of the story, but overall, nothing made sense to me. **Huge thanks to McElderry Books and Edelweiss for providing the arc free of charge**
    Mel-Loves-Books More than 1 year ago
    “There are so many stories. Stories older than me. The kind of stories you tell to keep young ones tucked in bed at night. My own mam and dad told them to me, and I expect their mama and dads did the same. Some say the soul eaters are demons. That The Beast made them out of mud and evil intent. That they snatch people’s souls and then bring them back to The Beast to suffer for all eternity.” The Beast is An Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale, was nothing like I was expecting. It is a very dark story involving soul stealers, orphans, and witch hunts. It was overall very well written, and it was certainly an interesting read, but it was a book that left me feeling flat at the end. I feel like it involved a lot of build up and then took a weird turn. I wanted to love it, because of how interesting the story was, and how much I liked the writing, but the truth is I just couldn’t love it, especially the ending. I give the book 3 stars.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A bittersweet delight.
    Suze-Lavender More than 1 year ago
    Alys has trouble sleeping and one night when she wanders she meets the soul eaters. The soul eaters are each other's mirror image, they're twins and they are always together. When their father sent them away for their own safety their life as soul eaters slowly started. They've grown wild, they devour people's souls and there's an insatiable hunger inside of them. People fear the soul eaters as much as the Beast, which they believe is great evil, but what does that mean exactly? Alys can resist the lure of the soul eaters and her life is being spared. The grownups in her village aren't so lucky, they can't escape the two sisters. Alys and the other children of her village need a fresh start, but they will never be able to shake what happened to them. Somehow Alys has a connection with the soul eaters. She also meets the Beast, which scares her and makes her curious at the same time. There's a difficult task ahead of her, but will she succeed? Or is she just like the twins, dark inside without any goodness? Alys has to find out who she is exactly and only then can she become who she's supposed to be. There is no safety for anyone though and the danger keeps growing, will she have enough time? The Beast Is an Animal is a fantastic creepy story. The soul eaters are both awful and fascinating at the same time. They are together, but they are one instead of two. They are hungry for souls, they're the nightmarish characters of nursery rhymes and they strike at night when people least expect it. They can erase entire villages and those who have faith are willing to keep evil away, they are trying to stay safe at all costs. This has a reversed effect and I loved how Peternelle van Arsdale plays with the boundaries of good and evil, she does that in a marvelous thought-provoking way. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen to the two sisters, the Beast, the children and Alys and the people she loves. This kept me on the edge of my seat and I read The Beast Is an Animal in one sitting because I was completely spellbound and couldn't put it down. Peternelle van Arsdale has a beautiful writing style. I loved the way she describes what's in the hearts of her main characters. Alys has an amazing multilayered personality. She constantly struggles with what she is and who she is and I was captivated by her from the beginning. Peternelle van Arsdale's vivid imagination is gorgeous and because of it Alys has a versatile personality that's based on contrasts. She is fierce and loyal, she's kind, but defiant, she's light and dark and she isn't afraid to look into her own soul. That is something I really enjoyed about The Beast Is an Animal, it shows the importance of self-knowledge and that makes the story extra special. Alys is going through plenty of emotions, each of them interesting and unexpected. Her story reads like a fairytale and is just as enchanting. I really loved this incredibly well written scary book.
    NookBookBunny More than 1 year ago
    My full book review of The Beast Is an Animal can be found here:
    taramichelle More than 1 year ago
    Rating: 3.5 stars Every once in a while, I read a book and I can't figure out if I liked it or not. The Beast Is an Animal was one of those books. It was dark, atmospheric, and somehow utterly enchanting. I waited a few days after reading it to write this review in order to let it sink in. The story has a very definite fairytale feeling to it, where fantastic things happen but have little to no explanation as to how they happen. I tend to prefer very strong world-building and this book had very little. The reader is never given answers to some important questions (such as what is the Beast, how does soul-eating work, what sort of magic is there in the world). The answers that are given are vague. However, while reading, I still found myself able to immerse myself in the world. Besides Alys, her second mother was the only character who truly stood out to me. After she originally displayed her healing magic, she fades from view until a certain point and the idea of magic is mostly lost. While the distance was perhaps meant to convey the growing distance between the two different peoples, I wished I could have gotten to know her better. As for Alys herself, I liked her as a protagonist. There was one interaction she had with Cian toward the end of the book that I absolutely loved (and which helped me understand the book better). If you read this story, don't expect an action-filled, fully fleshed-out world. Rather, approach it as you would a fairytale and revel in the beautifully created atmosphere. The Beast Is an Animal is a very unique book and I think, if they approach it with the proper expectations, that readers will enjoy it. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
    Alyssa75 More than 1 year ago
    ***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books Publication Date: February 28, 2017 Rating: 4 stars Source: eARC from Edelweiss Summary (from Goodreads): A girl with a secret talent must save her village from the encroaching darkness in this haunting and deeply satisfying tale. Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village. These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys. Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul. What I Liked: The Beast Is an Animal is one of the strangest and most intriguing books I've read in a long time. It's one of those books that made me think, what in the world did I just read? But in a good way. From the start, I was hooked into the story and there was no stopping until I knew how it ended. I haven't seen a lot of my fellow blogging peers read this one (yet), but I certainly hope that changes, because this book is one for the ages. Alys was seven years old when she saw the soul eaters - the night they found her wandering in the fields, and left her alone. The next morning, every single adult in her village was dead, but all the children were alive and sleeping. Alys and the other children of Gwenith are taken to Defaid, where the Elders allow them to live, but keep them under strict rule. The children of Gwenith are charged with guarding Defaid's new Gate, to watch for the evil soul eaters. Alys has never feared the soul eaters. In fact, she has seen them many times since that night when she was seven - and she has seen the Beast too. The Beast has spoken with her, and warns her that the soul eaters must be stopped. Alys must find a way to stop them before even more people are hurt. This book has a fairy tale vibe to it. This story could fit right in with Grimm's Fairy Tales, or some of the classic, old fairy tales that we all know and love. It has a mystical, creepy atmosphere to it, which a lot of the original fairy tales had. It's not a cutesy, happy story. It's dark and heartbreaking, but there a hopeful tone to it, especially towards the end. The story is written in third-person, limited to Alys's POV, and occasionally, a short narration of the soul eaters' wanderings. Having this story told in third-person was the best way to go about it, because it added to the dark fairy tale vibe. There is a Beast, and there are creepy soul eaters that are never satisfied. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)