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Beneath a Bethel by April-Jane Rowan #BookReview

Every youth of Elbridge remembers their Floris, the holy ceremony where their teeth are pulled out with pliers. It marks their ascension into adulthood and their right to have new porcelain teeth, ones that are embedded with magic, that grant the ability to make wishes.

Angora’s Floris will be upon the banks of the Eldwen river, the communal ceremony befitting his station. However he longs to remember his ceremony for the splendour of the Bethel, wreathed in candle light, drooping flowers and holy hymns.

Seeking to fulfil his dream leaves him the victim of violence and an outcast from society, living on its fringes until a chance meeting brings him to the heart of the Masters Guild, the place teeth are made. Learning secrets he never thought he’d be privy too, he eventually discovers the dark cost of their tradition.

Beneath A Bethel is a dark horror fantasy, set in a harsh, snow-covered city that hides its brutality with pageantry.

Beneath A Bethel by April-Jane Rowan

Title: Beneath a Bethel | Author: April-Jane Rowan | Publisher: Gurt Dog Press | Pub Date: 31/08/2020 | Pages: 183 | ASIN: ‎ B08FHDQCVQ | Genre: Horror/Dark Fantasy | Language: English | Source: Purchased | Starred Review

Beneath a Bethel Review

Beneath a Bethel grabbed my interest instantly with an opening premise that intrigued me. Rowan dove straight into her world without stopping for backstory and info dumps that can get in the way of the story. Instead, the reader’s immediately immersed in the action and starts piecing things together from little crumbs dropped throughout the narrative. I enjoyed this approach, and didn’t feel the story suffered for it. Angora, our protagonist, is soon in grave peril, and I was on edge, nervous about the outcome. The immersive start didn’t prevent me from connecting with the character or investing in his fate. 

Rowan continues to weave subtle reveals throughout, right down to the fact that Angora isn’t human. Not like us. He has fur and a tail, as do all the others in his world. I suppose some readers may feel disoriented, but we never know a whole person the second we meet them, and I liked this approach to getting to know the character and the world.

Rowan also takes a risk with the narrative, because in many respects, Angora’s passive. He doesn’t solve his problems or change his fate. Instead, while bad decisions robbed him of his future, luck appears to solve his problems and give him a second chance. Angora is very much swept by the winds, willing to go along with opportunities instead of trying to make his own way, but this is realistic. For a while, survival’s the only thing that matters, and thriving isn’t even a consideration.

Rowan also uses hope against the reader. I desperately wanted a good outcome for Angora. I wanted justice for what he’d suffered. I wanted him to be happy.

But the specters that haunt Angora in his new home hint at sinister truths that must be uncovered. Despite this, I tried to rationalize potential possibilities away, but Rowan wove the plot masterfully and managed to deliver some surprises. The events also affected Angora in a believable way, prompting his growth over the course of the story. ⅘ stars.

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Content Warnings:

death/murder of youth references, mutilation of deceased

Published inBook ReviewsStarred Reviews

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