The good Beasts of Avantia have been imprisoned in the kingdom of Malvel the evil wizard. Tom has already fought five terrible Beasts and is nearing the end of his Quest. But in order to achieve victory, Tom must navigate through the tunnels under Malvel's castle, where Sting the Scorpion Man awaits.
I'm finally there: the last Beast Quest book I ever intend to read, Sting the Scorpion Man. Amusingly, this one actually got a bit interesting, but thankfully not enough to convince me to go any further with this series; I know how that would work out, and I'm not interested.
So, what happened in this book? I'm feeling creative today, so let's start what I'll be calling The Fall of Seth, or Malvel Finally Grows a Pair. For the first time in the 18+ Beast Quest books I've read so far, Malvel finally did something unexpected and legitimately villainous. Tom and Elenna find Seth "sprawled on the ground and riddled with arrows"; when they try to save him, he tries to shove the arrows back in and screams that they should have left him to die. And, frankly, he's right, because as soon as it's clear that he won't be bleeding out any time soon, he goes full Baleful Polymorph and transforms into Sting, the scorpion-centaur thing on the cover above. And honestly, it's pretty genuinely tragic; definitely the first time I've felt anything close to an actual emotion while reading these books. Seth-as-Sting doesn't even want to fight the heroes--he actually tells Elenna to just go away at one point--and does so only because he doesn't have another choice. And uncharacteristically for the series, he truly suffers for it; Tom friggin' maims him--cutting off his new body's stinger to get the magic friggin' amethyst that's there for some reason, which has the power to draw doorways into walls, apparently--and keeps hunting the poor bastard even after they've already rescued Cypher.
Can we just take a second to reflect on that? I've been saying since about book seven that this whole "kill all the monsters!" mindset of Tom's is frankly disturbing, given that there's ample evidence that these creatures are sentient and may or may not even be working for Malvel of their own free will. But no, they're not the Avantia Beasts, so they get no second chances; they must all die. Even, apparently, when they're unwillingly transformed humans. Child humans.
Tom is just the best little hero, isn't he?
On the other end of the spectrum, Malvel stepped up his game in the most abrupt way I've ever seen, going from zero to sixty in the span of a single chapter; his plan was to take advantage of Tom's "good heart" to turn Seth into a monster (if Tom hadn't pulled out the arrows to "help", Seth would simply have died). But Malvel is finally acting like an intelligent and genuinely cruel villain instead of a guy who spends all his time twirling his mustache and cackling evilly while the pretty blonde is tied to the train tracks. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Tom couldn't possibly care less; even as Seth begs for Malvel to undo the transformation, Tom's behavior makes it clear that he doesn't give a single fuck. He's gonna kill Seth because now Seth is a Beast, and I guess that's enough for him.
...pretty sure that makes Tom a villain, too. Isn't he supposed to be saving people?
But no, he's entirely focused on his endgame: saving Cypher. Except he's that's utter nonsense, because as soon as he gets an inkling that there are some clues to his Daddy Drama about, suddenly that's important too. Because tracking down a dead guy is much more important than rescuing a living one. Nevermind that the clues lead nowhere and are clearly just a sequel hook.
At this point, there's only one thing I really care about in this book: it's the end of the Dark Realm series, and I'm free. Free to put Beast Quest behind me and forget about all the questions Blade left unanswered. (What happened to Tom's dad? Are Malvel and Seth still alive after the Gorgonian castle collapses? What's Kerlo's deal? Are the rebels really "good" people, as Tom thought, or is he being tricked somehow, as Kerlo kept hinting?)
I'm not that curious anyway.