You know when you pick up a book and a few pages in you realize it is going to be AWESOME?! That was my experience with Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. This isn't a super new book, in fact the sequel is already out, but I just picked it up and decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did because this book was so exciting it kept me hooked all day until I finished it!
Astrid has always taken her mother's loony ravings about being a descendant of an ancient line of unicorn hunters with a grain of salt... until her boyfriend is attacked by a small unicorn. Astrid calls her mother and Lilith arrives with the ancient Remedy- the only known cure for unicorn venom. That's right, venom. See, unicorns are not all sparkly and adorable like every children's story would have us believe- nope, they are evil, angry, man-eating (and livestock) beasts with poisonous "alicorns" (their horns). Alicorn poisoning kills almost immediately, but the hunters are immune to it. That is why the unicorn didn't attack Astrid. She was born to be a hunter.
Unicorns were supposed to be extinct, but the new emergence has led to many attacks all over the world. It also leads to Lilith's barely controlled enthusiasm as she packs up Astrid and ships her off to Rome where the Cloisters exists- the home to the Order of the Lioness, a group of virgin unicorn hunters centuries ago. And the Cloisters looks like it hasn't been touch in centuries. When Astrid arrives, she is greeted by Cory, a hunter, and her uncle Neil, the man who took the responsibility of "don" or leader of the group. It becomes clear that Cory lives, breathes, and eats unicorn hunting and would have loved having Lilith for a mother.
More girls start arrive, including Astrid's cousin and best friend Phil (Philippa), and the girls start cleaning the Cloisters and training. When their first hunts go badly and result in many injuries, it becomes clear that something is wrong. The pharmaceutical company funding the hunters is making strange decisions and eventually disappears after a particularly disastrous hunt. More and more, the girls and Neil become suspicious of the situation, but they continue hunting. When Neil leaves to track down their contact, Lilith comes to supervise as donna. Under her supervision, Astrid almost dies and is instead approached by a karkadann, the largest and most fearsome of all unicorn species. The karkadann has a proposition for Astrid, one she can't pass up. Especially if she wants to keep her fellow hunters alive.
This was an A.MAZE.ING story and I simply couldn't get enough of it. I plowed through this book like it was life or death (and sometimes it felt like it was!). It was so well-written and a new take on old myths. The unraveling of the secrets and myths were so intricate and kept the reader enthralled (as did the fight scenes of course). The characters in the story were very interesting as well. They were a motley group of young women, from pampered princesses to a homeless drug addict. Their stories and backgrounds were just as interesting as those of the main characters, making the reader highly invested in all the hunters. There is clearly a sequel out already, but the book ends well. It isn't left with a cliffhanger, but definitely leaves the reader wanting more.
The target audience for this book is tough because it is definitely in the fantasy/mythology realm, which I find appeals to kids from early middle school through high school (and most fantasy is pretty clean so will work in this wide range of ages). But this book is dark. Very dark. The hunting scenes with the unicorns are bloody and gruesome, but imagine hunting something the size of an elephant with a poisonous alicorn! Perhaps the darkest part was when one of the hunter's was raped and it turns out someone may have set her up to lose her virginity and therefore forfeit her status as a hunter. I think this is a book that should be given to either older students or a younger high school student who is mature enough to handle the violence. A good rule of thumb might be if you think a kid could handle Hunger Games, then they could handle this story. None of the violence was overdone, but there might be that student who is too delicate to handle the more bloody scenes in the book. This was an amazing story, and I will be devouring the sequel as soon as it gets here (but not devouring in the same sense as the evil man-eating unicorns, of course!).
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