Jennifer's Book Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Most people have reasonable fears – like clowns – but because of the horror stories Astrid’s mother, Lilith, told her as a child, Astrid has always had a fear of unicorns. Lilith claims the terrifying stories about man-eating unicorns are true, and their family is descended from a long line of unicorn hunters who went into retirement after the beasts went extinct more than a hundred years ago. So when a unicorn attacks Astrid’s boyfriend, Brandt, Astrid is surprised to learn her mother isn’t entirely crazy about the whole unicorn hunter thing. Lilith packs off a reluctant Astrid and sends her to Italy to hone her warrior-girl skills. The only people who can be unicorn hunters are virgin girl descendants of Alexander the Great. Why Alexander the Great? Because he tamed one of the biggest unicorns ever, of course. Why virgin girls? Because when they are no longer pure, they lose their special hunter abilities around unicorns. Duh. (Oh, and the smallest of unicorns, zhis, attack anyone who isn’t a virgin Alexander spawn on sight. But they’re like goat-sized puppies for the virgins. Because that totally makes sense.)
I loved and hated this book. Why the love? Killer unicorns! Five kinds of man-eating, violent, intelligent unicorns. This made Rampant different. Show me another book about killer unicorns. Can’t think of one? Neither can I. Forget sparkly vampires, angsty teens in dystopias and angels falling in love with humans – the protagonist in this book was destined to hunt unicorns who like their meat raw, bloody and a bit human. (They are known to kill farm animals, pets and other wildlife when humans aren’t readily available, though.) The book was a quick, easy read, and I was so invested that I finished it in one sitting. While I was reading it, I enjoyed every last bit. It’s filled with action, a bit of romance (destined to be chaste, of course), and an original premise. The flow is steady and never drags.
And the hate? A few things were a bit odd and never fully explained. A pharmaceutical company is financing the new hunter school (in a convent, because virgins). The company would like to find the recipe to a magical, mythical cure-all called Remedy so it could make gazillions. But then we discover the company is somehow hampering the girls, too, which makes little sense. Why pay for them to train, but then get in their way (including paying guys to deflower them, which results in an off-page date-rape for Astrid’s cousin)? The pharmaceutical company is a convenient villain, but its reasoning behind its actions is flimsy and never fully fleshed out.
The majority of characters in Rampant are one-dimensional, and none of them really develop any personality of their own. (Astrid, her cousin, Philippa, and another hunter, Cory, are the main exceptions.) The best character in the book is the zhi Bonegrinder, a tame unicorn that the girls basically inherited after Cory killed the zhi’s family. (In all fairness, the other unicorns in the family killed Cory’s mom.) But even Bonegrinder’s presence is a bit weird – why would anyone choose to keep it around knowing it is part of the reason Cory’s mother died?
My least favorite character? Lilith. Astrid’s mother is a crazy woman. Even when her unicorn theories are proven right because of the return of the carnivorous beasts, she’s fanatical and a bit witchy with a B. She’s convinced her daughter is destined to become a great hunter, and she’s willing to let a few other teens and tweens die because, hey, people die in this business. She even blames her own niece for getting raped (yay blame the victim!), which is just disgusting. And our protagonist never stands up to her mother, even when she knows that Lilith is putting them all in danger.
Cory’s cousin Philippa, a.k.a Phil, is a bit odd herself. She flew to join the hunters on her own, partly with the idea that she could convince them to treat unicorns like endangered animals (protection and relocation versus killing them). Joining a group of girls who are training to kill the unicorns doesn’t seem like the best way to do this, but whatever. Phil overlooks the fact that unicorns not only eat people, but actively seek out hunters and kill anyone who happens to be with them. Sometimes unicorns don’t kill people to eat them, but instead murder them just for fun. Nature’s own serial killers. But Phil drops the preservation idea like a hot potato about halfway through the book, and it’s never revisited. It would have been better if it had never even existed, honestly.
It may sound like the negatives outweigh the positives in Rampant, but they really don’t unless you overthink it (like I obviously did). It’s a fun, easy-breezy read, and it’s a great book to recommend to fans of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal romances – especially if they’re tired of reading the same story about fairies, vampires, angels and werewolves over and over. Even with all of its faults, I look forward to reading the sequel Ascendant.