There’s a certain something special about the ballet. Whether it’s admiring the artistry and the physicality, exploring the rich history of the dance, or wondering how much emotion can be expressed completely silently, the ballet has captivated audiences for generations. It’s also then no small wonder that stories about the ballet, about becoming part of the corps, have always found a place within pop culture.
Jamison Shea’s I Feed Her To The Beast and The Beast Is Me is a pitch-dark YA horror that sees African-American dancer Laure struggling to find her place within an exclusive Parisian ballet company, dealing with interpersonal problems (such as the general backstabbery of her classmates, and her absent father) and the general racism towards Black dancers that she experiences from everyone within her circle. She’s then given a chance of a lifetime: give part of her life to the watery demon that inhabits an underground river and she will become perfect.
The comparisons to Black Swan are obvious: both follow the conceit of a ballerina striving for perfection and driven to extreme measures to achieve this; but a closer kin might be found in Dario Argento‘s Suspiria, in which an American dancer finds evil lurking in a European dance school. In Argento’s case, his heroine battles the evil; in Shea’s, the (anti)heroine willingly succumbs to the darkness and uses it for her own goals, putting a neat spin on the archetype of the flawless, striving ballerina.
Shea has a real skill in horror, turning a simple premise (the lacklustre Netflix show Tiny Pretty Things too had a Black American ballerina trying to fight for her place in a European dance school and dealing with a mysterious death or two), into a genuinely unsettling tale. The inevitable deaths that follow are gruesome and unnerving and the occasional set pieces that build around Laure’s journey towards villainous self-actualisation blend together spectacle and pathos satisfyingly.
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Laure herself is easily the best part of I Feed Her To The Beast, a sympathetic protagonist who willingly subsumes herself to the dark lure of the demon to help her ford the chasm between her own potential and the impossible expectations of the racist ballet elite. Even when Laure is at her darkest, whether that’s psychically pushing a mocking classmate down the stairs or fighting her frenemies, she’s innately relatable, making her journey less of a sinister tragedy and more into the darkest version of an empowerment arc.
While suffering a lack of levity or any significant character development or nuance outside of Laure, I Feed Her To The Beast is a darkly delightful story that will easily sate any YA horror fans gearing up for spooky season, crafting a thrilling central anti-heroine, and thrills and chills that stay – pun very much intended – en pointe.
I Feed Her To The Beast and The Beast Is Me is out on 29th August from Hot Key Books.