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Beasts describes a world in which genetically engineered animals are given a variety of human characteristics. Painter is a leo, a combination of man and lion. Reynard, a character derived from medieval European fable, is part fox.
Political forces result in the leos being deemed an experimental failure, first resigned to reservations, and later to be hunted down and eliminated. A central element of the story is the relationship between Painter and Reynard, who acts as a kingmaker behind the scenes.