“Compelling, beautifully written and atmospheric.”
Hunted is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with additions from Russian folk tales like Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf. It appears to be set in a fantasy version of medieval Russia, although we are not given a precise time frame, but the clothing and society seem old-fashioned and hunting is done with a bow and arrow.
Extract from the blurb – Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones – and in her blood. After all, her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering its secrets … Out in the wilderness, there is no pressure to make conversation with vapid baronesses, or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman … Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature her father has been obsessively tracking, the Beast. Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange creature back into his own territory – a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of magical creatures that Yeva has only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty or the Beast?
Beauty, whose real name is Yeva, has been trained to hunt in the forest by her father, who was an expert hunter until he got married and gave it up to become a merchant instead. As he had no sons, he took his youngest daughter with him and taught her all he knew. She feels at home in the forest as nowhere else, but when she grows up she is expected to act like a lady and is not allowed to hunt any more. Instead she has to spend time sewing and gossiping with other ladies at the home of a baroness. She longs to escape. There is a deep yearning inside her for something other than the life she has. She doesn’t understand it herself; all she knows is it’s not enough.
When tragedy strikes, however, and her father loses his fortune and they have to move to his hunting lodge outside town, it is Yeva who supports her sisters by hunting to put food on the table while their father slowly goes mad with grief and anger. He disappears and Yeva decides to go looking for him. He used to tell her stories about the magical parts of the forest and the Beast that supposedly lives there, as well as the Firebird. She doesn’t believe they are real, but what if they are? Her father certainly thought so and he claimed to have been hunting the Beast. And what if the Beast has killed her father? Yeva needs to find out.
I found this story compelling and well written. It is atmospheric but very, very dark, gory and visceral. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The descriptions are vivid, with lots of detail – sometimes a bit too much as it slowed the pace. I felt that too much time was spent describing Yeva being a captive of the Beast, and her hatred and thirst for revenge. The way he treats her should not be something she can ever forgive, so for her to fall in love with him seemed very unlikely (despite so called Stockholm syndrome).
The ending too was disappointing to me – although a fairy tale ending of sorts, it wasn’t how I had imagined it at all. And it was also a bit difficult to understand.
I am giving this story four piranhas because it is beautifully written and it is certainly original – I’m sure lots of readers will love it. But for me personally, it was just too dark.
(The cover is gorgeous – love that deep-green cloak!)
Pia Fenton writes contemporary romantic YA stories and her Northbrooke High series features UK heroines clashing with US heroes in an American high school setting. The fourth one in the series – New England Dreams – is out now!