Free Beast by Suzanne Marine is a dystopia novel filled with lots of beautiful descriptions and metaphor: “Pin bursts. A tiny seed exploding puffs of pollen with gentle, whispered poofs. Poof. Poof. Little feathery fireworks. That was how it worked. They would appear randomly in small amounts. Quiet clusters of seeds appeared in the sky and poofed their gifts down upon us. Maybe only one or two a day for a few months. And then more every day. Sometimes crowds of people would stop in the streets to watch and the experience unified us because we all saw something beautiful at the same time. Spectators, alone but together in a type of religiosity. It was deep touching and surreal.”
Readers are introduced to this phenomenon of the earth landscape becoming a barren land where dust fights its way into every edifice of our body, misconstruing and melting your organs into something unrecognizable.
A badge of the poor, a mask designed to only partially cover ones face, the working class have little means to protect them from the onslaught of the descending flakes.
Our protagonist is only one upon millions of the working class that occupy the city. The story is told in the first person with a narrator that remains nameless with only the label “Helper A” to identify her for the first half of the book. Later we learn that her name is Eloise and that she works as an assistant to a doctor who examines dead bodies. This is top secret work. Eloise is not allowed to tell anyone about what she does all day. She tells her mother that she works in a puzzle factory – that she spends her entire day putting together puzzles. To do otherwise would be punishment by death.
Eventually, Eloise meets Jamie, a man that in every which way she wants to pour her soul into. She finds keeping her mouth shut, especially around Jamie, difficult. She yearns to tell her soulmate how the dust was killing the poor and middle class, who couldn’t afford adequate masks, from the inside but just didn’t have the words to. She was afraid that he would tell his parents and therefore divulge the secret she was sworn to keep, and so she burrowed the truth.
But at work, as more dead bodies appear on the examining table with obvious signs of dust corrosion, Dr. M instigates that he wants to meet up after work. It is at this certain secret meeting place that he hints that Eloise should tell someone about their findings of how dust has proven deadly especially among the poor who couldn’t afford adequate masks to protect their faces.
Her suspicions that the government was watching them were confirmed when Jamie whispered her worst fears on an inconspicuous day on the way to the temple – that they were all under surveillance. One day, he reveals to her the contents of the secret room in his apartment that he always kept locked up. It contained a printing press to which he prints with his very own concocted vegetable ink, a secret and anonymous newspaper that prints out secrets the government is willing to go through great lengths to keep quiet.
When Eloise finally told her story through an article that she wrote for Jamie’s newspaper, word began to spread with hysteria mounting in the press. The government began to vilify the poor and they were calling the newspaper a “conspiracy paper.”
A pivot in the story hints at the meaning behind the book: “We are called ‘beasts’ over and over. Unstable beasts, immoral beasts, raging beasts, beasts with no heart and empathy for our society. Cowardly beasts.”
Backlash from Eloise’s article, lead to the capture of Jamie. Caught in the maelstrom of her cover story, Eloise is too imprisoned. A Raven and a man dressed all in black come to Eloise rescue, and together they whisk her out of her cruel confines.
Deeply troubled and traumatized by what she had witnessed at the prison, Eloise desperately wants to start afresh. But with so much loss and death weighing her down, Eloise is at a lost on how to gain control of her life. Soon, Eloise departs from the safe house that her protectors had taken her to and decides that she will publish the final issue to Jamie’s newspaper, revealing with her experience that the government captured, imprisoned, and tortured its very citizens.
What she finds on her quest reveals secrets so horrible, the government will do anything to keep her quiet. Nothing is questionable. Not even death.
This was a beautiful dystopian novel filled with well-written passages with lots of expressive language. At times, I was mesmerized by the writing and I felt Suzanne Marine really did the novel its poetic justice.
One thing I felt hindered the book was that the ambiguity made the story suffer. We are kept in the dark about Eloise’s identity for the first whole half of the book, but I can see how this goes on to foster the dystopian and end of the world-motif. Eloise is part of the poor working class, and perhaps the author wants us to see through the funnel of the upper echelons of the rich who see the poor as the “nameless few”.
With such vagueness prevalent in the book, readers can get lost in the plot which reads as free-flowing and with no clear-cut structure.
This can be troublesome if readers want something more concrete to peruse through.
For the most part, the book contained small bursts of clarity that can make reading this provocative story one filled with piercing arrays of insight and one that will sharpen your perspective.
A moving, illustrative story that will make you think, Free Beasts is one of those books that will be on your mind long after you have put the book down.