YA Weekend: Hunted by Meagan Spooner
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: HarperTeen (March 14, 2017)
Length: 384 pages
I have a bit of a problem. It’s called an addiction to Beauty and the Beast retellings. No matter how often it gets done, or how often I get burned, I just can’t seem to get enough. Call it a personal interest or a guilty pleasure, I just can’t seem to say no.
Hunted is somewhat of a surprising entry into the genre though, in that it combines the traditional “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale with another one from Russian folklore, “Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf”. The book follows Yeva (whose nickname is “Beauty”), the youngest of a rich merchant’s three daughters. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the family winds up losing their entire fortune, forcing them all to move back into their old hunting lodge in the woods. Obsessed with paying off his debts, Yeva’s father sinks deeper into madness and despair, raving about capturing a great beast that lives in the forest, convinced that once he is successful they will regain their wealth and prestigious way of life. So when he goes missing one night, it is Yeva who sets out to find him, since among her sisters it is she who possesses the most skill in tracking and hunting.
Sadly for Yeva, what she finds instead is death and ruination in a cursed valley, ruled over by a creature out of myth. Imprisoned by this strange Beast, she is forced to do as he commands, helping him hunt his elusive prey in the forest or risk him bringing harm upon the rest of her family. In time, however, Yeva learns the truth behind why the Beast has kept her close, and begins to realize that he may be as much a prisoner as she is.
Retellings can be tricky, because there’s a fine art to treading that razor thin line between going over familiar ground and offering something new and interesting at the same time. Hunted manages to strike this balance remarkably well, staying true to the essence of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale while still throwing in fresh and unexpected elements. We see much evidence of this approach in the beginning and at the end of the novel which, not surprisingly, I found to be the best parts. The middle section was a bit ho-hum in comparison, because we all know what happens is going to be some variation of the same events leading to our captive falling in love with her captor.
To Meagan Spooner’s credit though, Hunted does not exactly play out like your typical cringe-inducing tale of Stockholm Syndome (the way many bad retellings are handled). For one thing, there’s a lot more to her Beast than simply a man whose good nature is buried deep inside a savage creature’s body, just waiting for the right woman to come along and draw it out. Neither is Yeva a pushover like a lot of the so-called “strong and independent” YA heroines whose resolve crumbles the moment a bad boy deigns to show a hint of kindness (though, there was that facepalm moment in which Yeva stubbornly refuses to thank the Beast for saving her life, yet the gratitude comes gushing out like a waterfall the instant he shows her a few musty old books. Priorities, girl, priorities!) In fact, this is a woman who several times attempts to murder her captor and actually bloodies her hands while doing so, showing more balls than the vast majority of YA protagonists I’ve encountered in a similar situation. While Yeva might be forced to obey the Beast, she does not go quietly about it, and continues to fight his will right up until the later parts of the novel.
Still, considering how the Beast was so terrible to her at the beginning and the way Yeva was so intent on killing him, their eventual romance came rather abruptly and was not very convincing. Their intrinsic faults aside though, both characters were fascinating studies, especially the Beast, whose true self is revealed to us in snippets of his POV. I also liked how the story paid homage to the myths of the Firebird, a common motif in Slavic folklore that often symbolizes a difficult quest. By incorporating the tale of “Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf”, Hunted warns against being tempted by more when life’s simpler satisfactions may be right in front of your eyes. There’s a good dose of magic here too, which is both the cause and the cure for all the conflict, and in order to break the curse that binds her and the Beast, Yeva must undertake her own “Firebird quest”.
Everything considered, I had a good time with Hunted and thought it was one of the more enjoyable Beauty and the Beast retellings I’ve ever read. While it’s not entirely free of flaws, I liked how the story introduced plenty of clever and inventive elements to the table. All in all a satisfying read.