Serena’s Review: “Hunted”

24485589Book: “Hunted” by Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Review: Just in time to cash in on my “Beauty and the Beast” phase that has been reignited by the recent movie release (though, let’s be real, I’m almost always interested in “Beauty and the Beast” stories) comes this new release by Meagan Spooner with a re-imaging of the classic fairytale. And, what a relief, it is actually a true re-imagining! And a very enjoyable one at that!

Similar to my love of Jane Austen re-tellings, I’m always on the look out for a good fairytale re-imagining, and my favorite is “Beauty and the Beast.” And, just like the Jane Austen wanna-bes, many of them fall sadly short, so I’m always slightly nervous going in. Will this one be yet another let down? Or…?

In Spooner’s version, Beauty, or Yeva, and her two older sisters are the daughters of a wealthy merchant father. But this time, her father’s rise to fortune came upon the back of his skill as an archer and hunter in the mysterious forest that surrounds the city. From him, Yeva has also learned to tread the forest pathways, bow in hand, and developed a deep love for the woods and its denizens, both the ordinary and the fabled. After the family’s inevitable fall from fortune and her father’s subsequent disappearance on a hunting trip, Yeva sets out to find him only to become entangled in the plot of a Beast who is on the lookout for a skilled hunter to free him from a curse.

What I most loved about this book was the blending of familiar aspects from the classic tale (the main plot points are all there) alongside the truly unique new take on the story as a whole. And these new aspects weren’t only superficial changes. The entire curse is changed in a way that effects the action of the story, the characterization of its main characters, and the gradual build in the relationship between Yeva and the Beast.

First, for the familiar aspects. I was overjoyed to see one of the only other examples I can think of of a “Beauty and the Beast” story where the sisters were as well-handled as they were in my all-time favorite version, Robin McKinley’s “Beauty.” In particular, Asenka, the middle daughter who was born with a clubbed foot, is incredibly well-rounded and made to be a character in her own right. The relationship between all the sisters is lovely, shown and not told through small moments, like their ritual of break-making each night, and the larger interactions that come from the traumatic events that befall the family throughout the story. We all know that I am a sucker for sister stories, and this one was completely satisfying in every way.

And, as I said, the main bullet points of the fairytale are all there in this book. The family’s fall from fortune, Beauty’s time with the Beast, her return to her family, and her choice to go back to the Beast and save him from the curse. But, as I said, all of these traditional plot points were handled in completely unique ways. Beauty’s motivation for staying with the Beast is different. His motivations for wanting her there are different (we get small insights into his thoughts between chapters). Their relationship develops along different lines than those we expect (hunting trips in the woods rather than elaborate, enchanted dinners in a castle.) And the curse itself is set up in a completely new way.

I loved how naturally all of these elements came together, new and traditional. Yeva’s love of hunting isn’t simply thrown in as an aside that makes here character “strong” but is actually integral to the story. The relationship between the two builds slowly and naturally, never easily side-stepping the challenging aspects of the situation they find themselves in. There is no quick forgiveness or trust, but instead, a natural transformation. I also particularly liked what Spooner did with the Gaston-like character, Solomir. He was another excellent example of fleshing out a character who can often come across as just another stock character.

Lastly, Spooner added a level of depth to Yeva’s internal struggle throughout the book. Yes, circumstances force her into situations that she wouldn’t have chosen for herself, but from the very beginning her desire for something more is made clear. I appreciated how deeply the author delved into this sense of wanting and dissatisfaction, and how neatly these aspects of Yeva’s character were tied to the story and curse as a whole. Again, it wasn’t an aside to make Yeva more well-rounded, but an important aspect of the story itself. My only complaint would be that I feel Spooner may have missed an opportunity to push this theme further in the end of the book. It seemed like she walked right up to the edge of making a more powerful statement about this, but then side-stepped it a bit. She still made her point clearly and tied it together well, but I personally feel like it could have been taken a bit further, even.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. It is always so exciting to see an excellent fairytale retelling, especially of “Beauty and the Beast” which I think is probably one of the more challenging tales to do well. I strongly recommend this book to fans of the original story and of fairytale retellings in general!

Rating 9: An excellent story, perfectly blending the familiar elements of the fairytale and unique characters and plots!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hunted” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best retellings of Beauty and the Beast” and “Archery.”

Find “Hunted” at your library using WorldCat!

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