THE BEASTS OF BARAKHAI

Mickey Zucker Reichert

DAW / 352 pages / Reissue edition (August 1, 2002)

ASIN: B0030CHFIK

When Mickey Zucker Reichert embarks on a new series, her fans sit up and take notice, and she gains a legion of new enthusiasts. Her last outing was the impressive Flightless Falcon — more of an adult adventure fantasy — but her latest The Beasts of Barakhai is a book for all ages, even if the youngest fans will need someone else to do the reading. No matter that it may look like pure YA fare; this is world of magic and mystery that we can all enjoy.

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Consider Benton Collins, mild-mannered graduate student in biology, not your typical hero-type, maybe not even your average second-banana. One inhabitant of the strange world of Barakhai thinks that Ben is the deliverer the citizens have been waiting for. Zylas, the recruiter of this unlikely champion, doesn’t give him much of a chance to say no; instead, he tricks Ben into following him through a bolt-hole into a place no human ever envisioned.

Leave it to Ben to commit the ultimate crime within minutes of arriving in Barakhai. Now it’s a question of whether he will survive long enough to liberate the population, much less get back to his own world in one piece. Of course, that’s if he makes it back at all. His new ally who, like the rest of the good citizens of Barakhai, spends part of every day in his alternate animal form of a white rat.

To be born in Barakhai is to be condemned to a lifetime of involuntary shape-shifting, a condition only the ruling class escapes. With Ben’s help, a rebellious faction plans to steal back the magic that will allow them the same advantage and level the playing field. The ruling class is not likely to give up this power without a struggle.

With one volume down, Reichert’s new series The Books of Barakhai is off to a favourable start. The notion of involuntary shape-shifters should pique the curiosity of all fantasy fans. Ben is an implausible, but amiable protagonist — an Everyman hero it is easy to relate to and support. The cast of characters has more going for it than one could normally ask for in adventure fantasy, with its added twist that sometimes those characters are mice or hummingbirds or horses or, well, people. The setting is an ingenious amalgam of here and there that promises entertaining and wild situations.

But, the strongest endorsement for The Beasts of Barakhai may be its universal appeal. Everyone can enjoy the strange exploits of Benton Collins and his unusual friends and foes. Reichert’s creation is open to everyone. Read it for your own pleasure or share it with soon-to-be readers; the magic and the fuzzy critters, the danger and the derring-do, will keep these book lively and the audience looking for more.