Ayana Gray bestselling author of Beasts of Prey, soon to be made into a Netflix film, talks exclusively to Melan Magazine about her book’s plot and what inspired her to write it.
Beasts of Prey is the highly acclaimed debut novel from exciting new talent Ayana Gray who has been heralded by critics as ‘the next big thing in YA Fantasy’.
In the same vein as those that came before her like the Children of Blood and Bone series and The Gilded Ones/The Merciless Ones, Ayana Gray’s novel is an extraordinary adventure inspired by Pan-African mythology and the first in a standout new fantasy trilogy weaving together monsters, myths and magic.
In the broken city of Lkossa sixteen-year-old Koffi, a beast-keeper in a magical zoo, is kept against her will despite desperately seeking freedom. Ekon, the son of a decorated hero, is a warrior in training seeking the opportunity to prove his honour. One night their paths cross in an unexpected way and they find themselves in the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and untold dangers, and the tentative alliance between them is tested to the extreme. The hunt begins – but are they the hunters or the hunted?
Excitingly for Ayana, mere weeks after it was released, Beasts of Prey secured the coveted honour of being a New York Times bestseller and the book is currently being adapted as a major film by Netflix by Melody Cooper, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Taking time out of her busy promotional tour Ayana recently spoke exclusively to Melan Magazine about her remarkable new book.
If you could be any character in Beasts of Prey, who would you be, and why?
I think it’d be pretty cool to be Badwa — a goddess of jungles and animals sounds pretty cool to me! If I could be any character ever, I would be Storm from the X-Men. She’s #goals, and we love a powerful Black woman who kicks butt.
We loved the subtle growth of the love between Koffi and Ekon, what was the inspiration behind this?
I was fortunate to grow up during literature’s “YA boom,” a time in the mid-noughts when young adult literature really skyrocketed. I’m grateful to have had access to so many great titles in my teens, but one thing I came to regret was how many stories perpetuated this idea of “insta-love,” the idea that you could be madly in love with (and willing to die for!) someone you barely knew. In my personal opinion, this can create really unsafe expectations and goals for young readers in their personal lives, and so I set out to write a story in which two characters develop feelings for each other more slowly and organically.
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The pressure that Ekon feels to be like his father will likely be familiar to many young people’s experiences. What do you want young people to take away from this dynamic?
Ekon struggles with a burden that I think many teens in particular have to contend with: the constant anxiety of trying to live up to the expectations of the people we love most. While most teenagers probably don’t have to face quite the same familial expectations that he does, there’s certainly a lot of pressure on teens about their futures, where they’re going to fit in the world. (Spoiler: This lasts through your 20s too!) I hope that, perhaps in reading Ekon’s story, teens learn what he did: that no matter what path you choose for yourself, the love of your family is not something to be earned but given without condition.
At its heart, Beasts of Prey is quite a spiritual book, where did the idea of the foremothers healing Koffi, and also watching over everything, come from?
As a Black American woman, and as the descendant of African slaves, my relationship with heritage is marked by pain and erasure, there’s no getting around it. There is a scene within Beasts of Prey where Koffi has an opportunity to convene with her foremothers, and in honesty that scene was a bit of catharsis for me. It was inspired by a rhetorical question: “what would it be like if I had the chance to meet my ancestors, to hear their stories and borrow from their collective strength and power?” The scene came very organically then and remains one of my favorites in the book.
Who are three of your favourite authors?
It would be impossible for me to narrow down my favorites to three in general, so I’ll pick three in young adult fantasy literature: Margaret Rogerson, Roshani Chokshi, and Margaret Owen.
How does it feel to know that Beasts of Prey is to be made into a Netflix film?
It is still absolutely astounding to me that my little beastie book is now being developed into a film by one of the titans of the streaming industry; it’s truly unreal and I am so hopeful about how it takes shape as things develop.
What do you want readers, young and old, to take away from reading the book?
I’m more and more careful not to impress upon readers what I want them to take away from my work; each reader will have a different relationship with my books depending on their unique life circumstances. That said, I know that I wrote this story to tell my seventeen-year-old self to stop running from the scary things, to face my fears, and to never be afraid to rely on the strength and support of the ones who stay with you on the adventure of life.
Beasts of Pray by Ayana Gray is out now.