Monday, July 10, 2017

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Reviewed by Ambrea

Yeva grew up with a bow in her hands, her father teaching her the ways of the forest and all its dark stories.  Even after growing up in the city, far from her father’s old hunting lodge, Yeva has never forgotten her childhood beneath the shadowy boughs of the woods.  When her father loses his fortune, moving Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly thrilled.  She is no longer forced to pretend to be someone she is not, no longer forced to listen to air-headed baronesses—no longer forced to wed a wealthy gentleman.

But the sudden change in her family’s fortunes wears hard on her father, slowly pushing him toward the precipice of madness.  He claims a creature is watching them from the woods—and he intends to capture and kill it.  When their father suddenly goes missing in the forest, Yeva sets out in search of him and the monstrous creature that became his obsession.

Personally, I enjoyed Meagan Spooner’s Hunted.  It’s not quite what I expected, but, nevertheless, I enjoyed it.  I loved the subtle interweaving of Russian folklore with the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and I liked the ethereal magic of the Beast’s world.  I liked the creatures Hunted envisioned:  Lamya the dragon, who could take on a glamorous female shape; Borovoi, the leshy (or forest spirit), who liked to take the form of a fox; the Firebird that inexorably draws Yeva deeper into the dark shadows of the forest; and, of course, he Beast.

It’s a darkly magical world that’s breathtaking and dangerous, fascinating yet deadly.  I fell in love with the woods that Spooner imagined:  a cursed forest full of magical creatures—dragons, forest spirits, monsters, curses, more—that exists just beneath the surface of human perception.  I even loved the descriptions of it, which evoke not just the fantastical imagery of this darkly terrifying world but plays at all the senses with the “not-quite-music” that reaches out to Yeva.

And when both Yeva and the Beast speak of longing, of wanting something indescribable, it really struck a chord with me.  I mean, everyone has a goal, everyone has something in mind that they want and desire, something for which they hope.  Sometimes, it’s just a longing for no real, concrete thing that lingers:

“I remember a life before that was good, but not the one I wanted.  I remember feeling as though nothing and no one in this world could ever understand the way I wanted, that pang that rings deeper than flesh and bone.

“My longing for something else, beyond, into magic and dreams and the things everyone else seemed to leave behind as children.  For something I knew I could never truly find.”

As silly as it may sound, I felt those words when I read them.  I think it’s the feeling every reader gets whenever he or she picks up a book and dives into a new story.  For me, I feel like I’m always looking for something in the next book that will really connect with me, that will make me feel something incredible—that will take me away, for the briefest moments, from everyday reality.  Readers are always looking for something, looking to find something or learn something in a new book, and Hunted seems to perfectly capture that longing.

Although I enjoyed Hunted overall, I found myself constantly stymied by my expectations of what The Beauty and the Beast should be.  I read the cover, so I knew what I was getting into with this novel; however, I kept thinking back to Belle in Disney’s rendition of the tale.  I couldn’t seem to get my mind to drift away from it, which often colored how I began to think of Yeva and her story.

I think if I’d gone into the story with no expectations, without knowing the novel was based on Beauty and the Beast, I would have enjoyed it more.  I liked it, don’t get me wrong, but I was always expecting something else to happen, hoping Yeva would live up to my expectations of Belle, even when I knew she was a totally different character.  Reading Hunted for itself, reading it without Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in mind (a difficult thing to do, given a live-action version only recently came out), makes for a much better experience.

Oh, and one last thing:  I loved the dedication, which reads,
“To the girl
who reads by flashlight
who sees dragons in the clouds
who feels most alive in worlds that never were
who knows magic is real
who dreams
This is for you.”

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a dedication like that?

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