Beasts of Tabat: Vivid worldbuilding delivers a world in political upheaval

Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBeasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBeasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo

Because I got an ARC of Hearts of Tabat, the second book in Cat Rambo’s TABAT QUARTET, in 2018, I read it before the first book. I thought that would have a negative impact on my reaction to Book One, Beasts of Tabat, but as I was reading, my brain reset itself, and when I got to the end I was almost as shocked as if I hadn’t had some inkling what was coming. That’s some good storytelling!

In Beasts of Tabat, we meet Teo, a village boy. His family are shapeshifters, hunted down and killed by the ruling class of Tabat. When his family plans to send him to the Temples of the Moon, Teo flees from the docks of the capital city, Tabat, where political unrest seethes. He struggles to find a safe place, with a dream that someday he’ll meet the city’s number one celebrity, Bella Kanto, the Winter Gladiator.

Tabat is ruled by a Duke, in fact the last Duke, due to an agreement his ancestors made with the townspeople three hundred years ago. The Duke will step down and an elected ruler will take over. The possibility of change affects everyone, both the humans and the various magical beings, most of whom have been legally classified as Beasts and who have no legal rights at all. At first, some of the Beast designations seem at least understandable to the reader, but soon it’s obvious just how arbitrary the designations are, how self-aware Beasts are and how much they are people. The thought of the radical change in government has led some Beasts and other magic being to consider a revolution. Others in the nobility face censure and even imprisonment for suggesting that Beasts should have rights and freedoms.

Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAt the center of much of the controversy is Bella Kanto, the Winter Gladiator, herself. Traditionally, every year the Gladiator of Spring battles the Gladiator of Winter. The ritual is meant to usher in spring and the growing season. In fact, since Bella has been Gladiator, she has never lost a bout, and each year winter has been extended six weeks longer than the calendar shows. Bella has been the Winter Gladiator for nearly twenty years, a feat even she thinks isn’t possible without magic. Somehow she has become connected to the city. Regularly, people ask her privately to take a dive and let spring come sooner, but it is a point of honor with Bella that she will not throw a match. That is nearly the only thing Bella is honorable about. She is an ornament in the court of Duke Alberic, adored and hated simultaneously throughout the city. Fans swarm her wherever she goes, but she must wear protection charms against those who plan to do her harm. Bella is not good at keeping her word, with her business partner, her lovers or even to herself, and she underestimates Duke Alberic’s reluctance to relinquish his throne. Her arrogance is her vulnerability and the book ends on a cliff-hanger betrayal.

My favorite part of Beasts of Tabat is the intricate world-building, showcased by vivid descriptions that evoke the terraced city, the smell and flavor of warm pastries, and the profound sense of cold in the Tabat winter. Almost no character can be trusted; each character has their own agenda, and each is believable. Bella was infuriating to watch but I understood why she did the things she did.

As I said, the ending was shocking, laying the groundwork Hearts of Tabat, and drawing aside the richly embroidered veil of Tabat social life to reveal the really nasty workings underneath. The third book, Exiles of Tabat, is due out in May 2021 and I’m eager to get my hands on it.

Published in 2015. Mythical beasts. Legendary gladiators. The fate of a boy entwined with epic revolution. When countryboy Teo arrives in the coastal city of Tabat, he finds it a hostile place, particularly to a boy hiding an enormous secret. It’s also a city in turmoil, thanks to an ancient accord to change governments and the rising demands of Beasts, the Unicorns, Dryads, Minotaurs and other magical creature on whose labor and bodies Tabat depends. And worst of all, it’s a city dedicated to killing Shifters, the race whose blood Teo bears. When his fate becomes woven with that of Tabat’s most famous gladiator, Bella Kanto, his existence becomes even more imperiled. Kanto’s magical battle determines the weather each year, and the wealthy merchants are tired of the long winters she’s brought. Can Teo and Bella save each other from the plots that are closing in on them from all sides?

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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