"I Feed Her to the Beast...." tells the story of Laure, a ballerina in the Paris ballet. Among her many entitled and vicious peers, Laure has had to fight to make a place for herself. She's emancipated from her family, she's had to steal to pay her way, she's a young Black woman in a predominantly white world, and she's got a LOT of anger. With the help of another ballerina, she ends up making a deal with a god that's leaking through a crack in the Paris catacombs. Cue her antihero origin story.
I've never read a book quite like this. There are most definitely a few nods to the Phantom of the Opera, but it's not really a retelling. There's a fair bit of true body horror in this, but the most luscious, violent language is reserved for the descriptions of the ballet itself. The scenes are vivid, but the prose itself is dreamy (or rather, nightmarish but with dream logic) as we follow Laure's logic. The story works a bit like a ballet performance, too, in that there's often little connective tissue between scenes, and a warped sense of time as the story unfolds.
Don't expect any heroes on this story. In that sense, it reminded me a bit of Dowery of Blood. Laure's logic makes sense in the context of how people treat her, and there's a lot of social commentary in here that's very carefully worded.
There were a number of times when I had to go back a page or two and reread passages to see if I'd missed something, because the slightly disjointed nature of the story made it hard for me to fully immerse myself in the narrative. That read like a deliberate choice on Shea's part, but it didn't always work for me. The prose isn't exactly purple, but it's a far cry from what I'd call 'commercial prose'---Shea luxuriates in language and puts the way dancer's bodies are viewed under a microscope. A couple of the fantastical elements of story left me lukewarm, but Laure's arc and voice, the descriptions of the ballet, and the overall commentary on human nature were gorgeous and twisted. That cover *swoon* is spot-on. Beautiful.
I was able to read this book as an ARC, and I wish Jamison Shae all the best with this gorgeous debut novel. I'm not clear if they intend for this to be the start of a series, but either way, I look forward to whatever they write next!