This one is also something I decided on for Valentine’s Day, but I’m a little late in getting the review done; I saw a teaser chapter posted online and I figured why not? I did get the book a few days early and put it with the rest of the small Valentine’s stash I’d set up for myself. The King’s Beast is a manga series from a publisher that tends to focus a lot on drawn out romance type stories. The King’s Beast in spite of the title seems to fit well into that category.
The world of the story is a fantasy probably vaguely medieval China setting based on the look, and the co-existence of humanity with beast-people who look essentially like humans with animal ear and tails. Co-existence is probably not quite the right word though since the beast folk are oppressed by their human masters; there are laws like beast people can’t have more than one child, they can only hold low-level service type jobs, and they are generally looked down upon by humanity in spite of having stronger physical abilities. Some beast people though apparently have some sort of special (magical-type) abilities, and when identified as such, they are taken to become guards and servants of the royal family. This is what happened to Rangetsu’s twin brother Sogetsu when they were kids, and Sogetsu was killed by persons unknown not much later. Rangetsu decides eventually that she has to find out who murdered Sogetsu and avenge her brother; she does this by pretending to be a boy and becoming the beast servant of the same prince that her brother was serving. Rangetsu has no special powers so she has to get the job through sheer physical ability, and she’s also pretty sure that Prince Tenyou is the one who had her brother killed. Turns out not only did he not do it, but Tenyou also happens to be a genuinely nice guy (also very attractive) in a place full of political tension and danger. The first volume ends with Tenyou promising Rnagetsu that not only will they find out who killed Sogetsu, but Rangetsu will be allowed to exact the revenge she wants.
So, there’s a lot of dark stuff here, but it’s really balanced well; the social inequalities are presented in a pretty real way, and maybe it’s just now times, but it really adds something to Rangetsu’s character that she’s had to face all that and still does since most humans in the palace seem treat their beast people as lesser beings. There’s also the murder mystery and the hints at who may have done it, and it’ll be interesting to see how the investigation goes, especially since Tenyou’s father apparently prohibited Tenyou from making inquiries not long after the murder. The political stuff hasn’t been detailed yet, but there’s enough mention that I’m hoping for maybe at least a little development in that area too. Lastly the Tenyou-Rangetsu dynamic is being set up so that they end up getting to know each other and falling for each other, except that Tenyou obviously has no idea Rangetsu is female, so that reveal will be interesting to see as well. Personally, I hope the romance thing only really gets to the general tension level and no more since the personalities involved seem like they would need serious adjusting or total giving up a piece of themselves to really work together in that way, and I’d kind of hate to see that given what I’ve seen from both so far; I’m hoping for more of a partnership angle, but that seems sort of unlikely, but we’ll see.