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Beasts of Prey

Beasts of Prey

by Ayana Gray

Narrated by Keylor Leigh, Tovah Ott, Ronald Peet

Unabridged — 15 hours, 42 minutes

Ayana Gray
Beasts of Prey

Beasts of Prey

by Ayana Gray

Narrated by Keylor Leigh, Tovah Ott, Ronald Peet

Unabridged — 15 hours, 42 minutes

Ayana Gray

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In this blockbuster fantasy series, perfect for fans of Firekeeper's Daughter and Iron Widow, fate binds two Black teenagers together as they journey into a magical jungle to hunt down a vicious monster.

“Rich in magic and mythos, Beasts of Prey is a feast for all the senses.” -Renée Ahdieh, New York Times bestselling author of The Beautiful

An Instant New York Times and Indie Bestseller

There's no such thing as magic in the broken city of Lkossa, especially for sixteen-year-old Koffi, who indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, knows the fearsome creatures in her care and paying off her family's debts to secure their eventual freedom can be her only focus. But the night those she loves are gravely threatened by the Zoo's cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn't fully understand, upending her life completely.

As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six-an elite warrior-and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, Ekon encounters not only the Shetani-a vicious monster that has plagued the city for nearly a century and stalks his nightmares-but Koffi who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi's power ultimately saves Ekon, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.

Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani and end its reign of terror, but he can't do it alone. Koffi and Ekon form a tentative alliance and together enter the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild, frightening magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.

“The hunt for your next YA fantasy book trilogy obsession has ended.” -Entertainment Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Gray’s imaginative debut traces the twined fates of 16-year-old Koffi and 17-year-old Ekon, a pair of Black teenagers living in the corrupt fictional jungle city of Lkossa. Once a haven for magic users called darajas, a terrible earthquake known as the Rupture led to their ostracization, driving magic underground. When Koffi—a beastkeeper whose family debts have indentured her to the Night Zoo—runs afoul of the zoo’s cruel owner, she unleashes a torrent of power that can only be magic. Her life intersects with Ekon’s after she rescues him from an ancient murderous creature called the Shetani, which has long threatened Lkossa; when he allows Koffi to flee, he forfeits his birthright as an elite warrior. Concealing divergent aims, the pair together pursues the Shetani through the dark, magical reaches of the Greater Jungle. As Koffi and Ekon ally in an attempt to outmaneuver their prey, even as enemies hunt them in turn, Gray’s lush, vivid descriptions enliven the twisting narrative, which is steeped in Pan-African mythology. The protagonists achieve a rich emotional depth complemented by the fast-paced action, and a light romantic element lends the plot additional support. Ages 12–up. Agent: Peter Knapp, Park & Fine Literary and Media. (Sept.)

From the Publisher

Praise for Beasts of Prey:
An Instant New York Times Bestseller
An Indie Bestseller
A 2022 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
A 2022 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Pick

A 2021 Kirkus Best Book
A 2021 New York Public Library Best Book Pick
A 2021 Chicago Public Library Best Book Pick
A 2021 Young Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Best Book Pick
A 2021 Parade Best YA Book Pick
A 2021 Black Caucus American Library Association Best of the Best Booklist Pick

An Apple Best Book of the Month Pick – October 2021

An Amazon Best Book of the Month – October 2021
An Indie Next Pick

Rich and powerful.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

"The hunt for your next YA fantasy book trilogy obsession has ended." —Entertainment Weekly

“A propulsive mystery mixed with a moving coming-of-age tale and a touch of romance, Beasts of Prey asks: When we go into the jungle, who will we be when we come out?” —The New York Times Book Review

“A new epic fantasy series.” —POPSUGAR

“Step into the lush, magical jungles of your new young-adult fantasy obsession. . . Much more than just your standard hero’s journey, Beasts of Prey is a story of courage, friendship, and community that’s as inspiring as it is exciting.” —Apple Books Review

★ “This pan-African story, rife with betrayal and narrated through poetic language that evokes vivid imagery, will ensnare readers, keeping them engaged with its energetic pace. The beautiful blend of mythology, romance, and action ends with a hint at more to come… A dazzling debut.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “Gray's debut is a thrilling series opener with twists and turns that will delight. Hints about more expansive world building to come will entice readers to pick up future volumes in this must-buy for fantasy enthusiasts.” —Booklist, starred review

★ “With its memorable characters, and a lush, expansive world, Gray’s debut is an action-packed adventure that will tug at hearts and keep teens glued to the page, yearning for more. Essential for all collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review

Rich in magic and mythos, Beasts of Prey is a feast for all the senses. Prepare to be transported to Koffi’s world from the first page and find yourself lost not only in the dark thrill of the hunt but the poignant beats of emotion at the heart of this story. Gray’s writing is lyrical, her imagery vivid. I eagerly await whatever she pens next.” —Renée Ahdieh, New York Times bestselling author of The Beautiful

A fast-paced, rip-roaring ride that grabs you by the throat and never lets you go. A masterpiece of magic.” —Namina Forna, New York Times bestselling author of The Gilded Ones

Epic doesn’t begin to encompass the jolting twists, sparkling mythos, and magical quests that fill the pages of Beasts of Prey. This is the sort of read that’s beyond transportive; it’s downright transcending—a tale full of heart and magic, and sure to ensorcell readers' body, bone, and soul.” —Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Gilded Wolves

“In this wildly original debut, Gray marries the lush imaginative wonder of African mythology with an action-packed tale of two teens on the opposite ends of fate, figuring out what’s truly worth fighting for. Swoony, twisty, action-packed, Beasts of Prey is as epic as it is unforgettable.” —J. Elle, New York Times bestselling author of Wings of Ebony

"A delight. I rarely fall in love with characters as quickly as I did with Koffi and Ekon. Gray masterfully balances the wonder and uncertainty of youth with a deftly, fully imagined world that I was dying to learn more about." —S. A. Chakraborty, author of the critically acclaimed and internationally bestselling The Daevabad Trilogy
"Ayana Gray’s wonder-filled world of mythos and monsters and magic comes to life in the ensnaring, enchanting Greater Jungle. An unputdownable tale that unfolds in a maze of twists and turns, driven by the crackling wit of two protagonists on a quest to vanquish the beasts of their present and past.” —Amélie Wen Zhao, author of the Blood Heir trilogy

A magical, bingeable debut by a phenomenal new voice in YA. Beasts of Prey is an immersive and heartfelt book with characters whose personalities seep from the pages. From its beautiful prose to its rich and vibrant world, this book is your next favorite read.” —Adalyn Grace, New York Times bestselling author of All the Stars and Teeth

"Steeped in rich worldbuilding and resonating with keenly drawn emotional depth, Beasts of Prey features masterful twists, heart-pounding action, and unforgettable characters you will want to follow to the end of the world and back. I grew lost in this book from the very first page." —Margaret Rogerson, bestselling author of Sorcery of Thorns

“Gray’s pan-African fantasy is filled with monsters, mythos, and Black girl magic. Her characters are well developed, and the plot is filled with African lore, expanded upon in an extensive author’s note. Fans of Forna’s The Gilded Ones and Ifueko’s Raybearer will enjoy this engrossing debut novel.” —The Horn Book

“The protagonists achieve a rich emotional depth complemented by the fast-paced action, and a light romantic element lends the plot additional support. . . imaginative debut.” —Publishers Weekly

One of the hottest young-adult books . . . It’s a thrill-packed premise that Gray elevates with crisp prose, surefooted pacing, and detail-rich worldbuilding. She weaves the markers of daily life, history and culture into scenes that crackle, painting her characters’ existence for her readers as clearly as she depicts physical action and emotional depth. It’s undeniably powerful storytelling.” —Book & Film Globe

A great quest full of blood and betrayal.” —

School Library Journal

★ 09/01/2021

Gr 9 Up—Sixteen-year-old Koffi yearns to be free of her family's indentured life as beast keepers at the Night Zoo—a menagerie filled with terrifying magical creatures and run by the cruel, selfish master of the Night Zoo, Baaz. Ekon wants only to uphold his family's legacy of being elite warriors—members of the famed Sons of Six—but on the night of his final test, a fire at the Night Zoo changes everything for both of them. Ekon is stripped of his chance to be a warrior and Koffi, who was so close to freedom, is given a lifetime of indenture. In a desperate attempt to gain not only her own freedom but that of the people she loves, she makes a bargain with Baaz—she will capture the Shetani, a fearsome creature that has held their village captive for nearly a century, and bring it back to the Night Zoo. Meanwhile Ekon, desperate to prove his worth as a warrior, decides that the best way to regain his honor is to kill the creature that has been terrorizing his village. As reluctant partners on similar quests, Koffi and Ekon venture deep into the Greater Jungle. The stakes have never been higher and with each brush with death they learn far more about themselves and their world than they ever imagined. With its memorable characters, and a lush, expansive world, Gray's debut is an action-packed adventure that will tug at hearts and keep teens glued to the page, yearning for more. VERDICT Essential for all collections.—India Winslow, formerly at Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2021-06-29
Opposites come together hoping to capture a menacing creature, only to find a greater purpose.

Ekon Okojo, studious and cautious, aspires to continue his family’s legacy as a Son of the Six, one of the city of Lkossa’s class of anointed warriors. Passionate and impulsive Koffi, who dreams of being free, is an indentured beastkeeper of the Night Zoo—a collection of exotic species owned by the greedy Baaz Mtombé. In the span of a single night, their paths cross and their destinies are forever altered: Ekon is cast out of the warrior class, and Koffi faces a lifetime of servitude. The pair form a tenuous partnership and venture into the Greater Jungle to hunt the Shetani, a powerful, vicious monster, hoping this will solve both their problems. As they are both headstrong and mistrustful, they get off to a rough start, but they become closer with each brush with death. Their quest for vengeance on the Shetani, which is wreaking havoc on Lkossa, turns into something more when they make an unanticipated discovery. Saving their village—and humanity—comes down to Ekon’s warrior instinct and Koffi’s ability to control the magic her people call the splendor. This pan-African story, rife with betrayal and narrated through poetic language that evokes vivid imagery, will ensnare readers, keeping them engaged with its energetic pace. The beautiful blend of mythology, romance, and action ends with a hint at more to come. All characters are Black.

A dazzling debut. (maps, author’s note) (Fantasy. 12-18)

Product Details

BN ID: 2940173165237
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 03/12/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Forbidden Fruit


Baba says only wicked things happen after midnight, but I know better.

I hold my breath, relieved the front door doesn’t creak as I nudge it open and relish the evening breeze on my skin. This late, its scent is distinct, a sharp blend of ozone and pine. I glance over my shoulder. In the next room, my parents are fast asleep; Mama’s snores are gentle, my father’s thunderous. It’s easy to envision them, two brown bodies curled against each other under a threadbare blanket, both worn out from a hard day’s work in the harvesting fields. I don’t want to wake them. Perhaps in the repose of their dreams, their daughter is different, a responsible girl instead of one who sneaks out. Sometimes I wish I was that responsible girl. I hesitate a second longer before slipping into the embrace of night.

Outside, the air is temperate, the rolling gray clouds overhead thick with the promise of monsoon season, but Lkossa remains a city bathed in silver moonlight, more than enough for me. I weave through its empty roads, darting between the flickers of sconce-­lit streets, and pray I don’t run into one of the patrolling Sons of the Six. It isn’t likely I’d get in trouble if the city’s anointed warriors caught me, but they’d almost certainly make me turn back, and I don’t want to. It’s a rare pleasure to walk here without whispers following in my wake, and there’s another reason not to be sent home yet: Dakari is waiting for me.

I note the new cloth banners decorating most of the city as I trek north, braided together in ropes of green, blue, and gold—green for the earth, blue for the sea, gold for the gods. Some hang limp from laundry lines as thin and worn as thread; others are nailed clumsily to the doors of modest mud-­brick homes not so unlike my own. It’s an endearing effort. In a few hours, once the dawn breaks anew, citizens will gather to begin their observance of the Bonding, a holy day in which we celebrate our connection to the gods of this land. Vendors will peddle amulets for the reverent and give away pouches of throwing rice for the children. The recently appointed Kuhani will offer blessings from the temple, and musicians will fill the streets with their discordant symphony. Knowing Mama, she’ll make roasted sweet potatoes drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, like she always does on special occasions. Baba will probably surprise her with a small gift he saved up for—and she’ll probably tell him he shouldn’t have. I ignore a small pang in my chest as I think about Tao, wondering if he’ll stop by our house like he normally does for holidays. I’m not actually sure he will this time; Tao and I haven’t been speaking lately.

The city darkens as I reach its border, a wide dirt clearing a few yards wide that separates Lkossa from the first of the Greater Jungle’s towering black pines. They seem to watch my approach with an immemorial regard, as stoic as the goddess said to dwell among them. Not everyone would dare to venture here—some believe the jungle isn’t safe—but I don’t mind it. My eyes search the expanse in anticipation, but when I realize I’m alone, I have to quell a fleeting disappointment. Dakari had said to meet him at this exact spot just after midnight, but he’s not here. Perhaps he’s running late, maybe he’s decided not to—


My heart stutters in my chest at the familiar nickname, and a dull flush heats my skin despite the evening chill as a figure peels away from one of the nearby pines to step into better light.


It’s hard to make out all his details in the night, but my imagination can fill in the gaps just fine. Half his face is dipped in moonlight, tracing along the sharp cut of his jaw, the easy bend in his broad shoulders. He’s taller than me, with the lean build of a runner. His golden-­brown skin is several shades lighter than mine, and his hair, raven-­black, is freshly cut in a top fade. He looks like a god, and—judging by the cocky grin he gives me—he knows it.

In a few confident strides, he closes the gap between us, and the air around me immediately fills with the smell of him: steel and dirt and leather from his apprenticeship in the forges of the Kughushi District. He gives me a once-­over, visibly impressed.

“You came.”

“Of course.” I make myself sound at ease. “We said just after midnight, didn’t we?”

“We did.” His chuckle is low, almost musical. “So, are you ready to see the surprise?”

“Are you kidding?” My laugh echoes his own. “I’ve been waiting for this all day. It had better be worth it.”

“Oh, it is.” Abruptly, his expression turns more serious. “Now, you have to promise to keep this secret. I’ve never shown anyone else.”

This surprises me. Dakari is, after all, attractive and popular; he has lots of friends. Lots of girl friends, specifically. “You mean, you haven’t shown anyone at all?”

“No,” he says quietly. “This is really special to me, and I . . . I guess I’ve just never really trusted someone else enough to share it.”

At once, I straighten, hoping I look mature, like the kind of girl who can be trusted. “I won’t tell anyone,” I whisper. “I promise.”

“Good.” Dakari winks, gesturing all around us. “Then, without further ado, here it is!”

I wait a beat before frowning, confused. Dakari’s arms are extended like he’s about to take flight, his expression absolutely jubilant. Clearly, he likes whatever he’s seeing, but I can’t see anything at all.

“Um . . .” After a few more uncomfortable seconds, I break the silence. “Sorry, am I missing something?”

Dakari glances my way, eyes dancing with amusement. “You mean you can’t feel it around us, the splendor?”

The moment the words leave his lips, there’s a thrum deep in my core. It’s like the first pluck of a kora string, and it reverberates through my entire body. And then I understand, of course. Foreigners call it magic; my people call it the splendor. I can’t see it, but I sense it—a great deal of it—moving just beneath the dirt like ripples in a pond. There’s far more here than I’ve ever felt practicing with the other darajas on the temple’s lawns.

“How . . . ?” I’m afraid to even move, to disturb whatever this strange wonder is. “How is there so much of it here?”

“It’s a rare, natural occurrence, only happens once a century.” Dakari’s eyes are closed like he’s savoring a forbidden fruit. “This is why the day of the Bonding is so special, Songbird.”

I look around us, astonished. “I thought the Bonding was symbolic, a day of reverence for—”

Dakari shakes his head. “It’s far more than a day for symbolism. In a few hours, an immeasurable amount of splendor will rise to the earth’s surface. The power will be glorious to behold, though I doubt most people will be able to feel it the way you can.” He throws me a sly, knowing look. “After all, few darajas are as gifted as you.”

Something pleasant squirms inside me at the compliment. Dakari isn’t like most people in Lkossa. He isn’t scared of me, or of what I can do. He isn’t intimidated by my abilities.

“Close your eyes.” The words are less a command and more an invitation when Dakari says them. “Go on, try it.”

I follow his lead and close my eyes. My bare toes wriggle, and the splendor responds as though it was only waiting for me to make the first move. It tingles as it flows through me, filling me like steeped honeybush tea poured into black porcelain. It’s divine.

“Songbird.” In my new darkness, Dakari’s voice is barely audible, but I hear the emotion in it, the want. “Open your eyes.”

I do, and the breath leaves my body.

Concentrated particles of the splendor are floating around us, sparkling like diamonds turned to dust. I feel a million of their tiny pulses in the air, and in the moment their collective heartbeat finds my own, I also feel a distinct sense of connection to them. The red dirt at my feet shifts as more of it rises from the ground, dancing up my limbs and seeping into my very bones. A current of its energy runs the length of me, intoxicating. I instantly crave more of it. Beside me, something tickles my ear. Dakari. I hadn’t noticed him moving closer to me. When he leans in and one hand finds the small of my back, I barely resist a shiver.

“Imagine what you could do with this.” His fingers interlaced with mine are warm, his lips soft against my cheek. I think of them, so close to my own, and forget how to breathe. “Imagine what you could make people see with this kind of power. You could show everyone that the splendor isn’t dangerous, just misunderstood. You could prove they were wrong about everything, about you.”

You could prove they were wrong. I swallow, remembering. The memories come in an onslaught—the brothers of the temple and their scoldings, the children who run when they see me, the gossiping elders. I think of Mama and Baba back home in their bed, fast asleep. My parents love me, I know, but even they whisper to each other when they think I’m not listening. Everyone is afraid of me and of what I can do, but Dakari . . . He isn’t afraid. He’s believed in me all along. He was the first person to really see all of me. In his eyes, I’m not a girl to be chastised but a woman to be respected. He understands me, he gets me, he loves me.

I love him.

The splendor before us has taken clearer shape now, forming a towering column of white-­gold light that seems to stretch into a realm beyond the sky. It emits a low hum. I could touch it if I reached out. I start to, when—


A different voice fractures the peace—one full of fear—and I tear my gaze away from the splendor. Dakari’s hand tightens around mine, but I pull away and search the clearing around us until I find a skinny boy in a dirt-­smudged tunic. His short dreadlocks are bed-­tousled, and he’s standing yards away with the city at his back, holding his knees like he’s been running. I didn’t see him arrive, and I don’t know how long he’s been here. His eyes are wide with horror. He knows me, and I know him.


“Adiah.” My best friend doesn’t call me Songbird—he uses my real name. His voice is hoarse, desperate. “Please don’t touch it. It’s . . . it’s dangerous.”

Tao loves me too, and in a way I love him back. He is smart and funny and kind. He’s been like a brother to me all my life. I hate hurting him. I hate that we haven’t been speaking.

“I—” Something catches in my throat, and Tao’s words echo in the space between us. Dangerous. He doesn’t want me to touch the splendor because he thinks it’s dangerous. He thinks I’m dangerous, just like everyone else does. But he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t get it. Dakari hasn’t said anything, but now his voice fills my head.

You could prove they were wrong.

I realize I can, and I will.

“I’m sorry.” The words leave me, but they’re swallowed by the sudden roar of the splendor. The column has grown bigger and louder; it drowns out Tao’s reply. I watch the light of it illuminate his face, the tears on his cheeks, and try to ease that same pang in my chest. My friend knows I’ve made my choice. Perhaps it doesn’t matter now, but I hope one day he’ll forgive me.

I close my eyes again as my fingers reach to brush the closest fragments of the splendor. This time, at my touch, they course through my veins in an eager, heady rush. My eyes open wide as they consume me, the wonder of it so enthralling that I barely register the pain until it’s too late.

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