Astrid always thought that her mother’s stories detailing how she came from a long, famous line of unicorn hunters who defeated several evil, venomous, killer unicorns (who are now thankfully extinct) in their day were just that–stories. And then one night a small unicorn called a zhi finds her in the woods, attacks and almost kills her boyfriend. Hard to believe something is extinct when you watch it gore your boyfriend with it’s poison-dripping horn. Astrid’s mother is thrilled that she can finally embrace her destiny, and sends her off to the Cloisters in Rome, ancient home of the unicorn hunters, and where Astrid’s mother hopes she can be trained to fight this ancient evil. Astrid’s cousin Philippa and eventually a few other girls join her at the convent, and together the young girls try to understand who they are and what their new unicorn hunting jobs mean for them.
I desperately wanted to sit somewhere in public while reading this book in hopes someone would say “Gee, what is that book about?” And I could respond, “Killer unicorns!” Of course, if they reacted like my boyfriend who thought killer unicorns and teenaged virgins who hunted them was the stupidest thing he had ever heard, it would be less fun. But considering I typically read books about 150-pound people who turn into 270-pound werewolves, killer unicorns really wasn’t a stretch for me. I ended up liking this book more than I thought I would.
According to “unicorn history,” unicorns have been around and have been trouble ever since Alexander the Great, whose infamous mount Bucephalus was not just a spirited stallion, but actually a karkadann, the largest and most dangerous of all unicorns. It is only virginal young ladies who are direct descendants of Alexander the Great who have the special unicorn hunter abilities: a “sixth sense” for where unicorns are located, the ability to read their minds, enhanced speed and other senses and best of all, immunity to their poison. Why they have to be virgins is never explained to anyone-the girls or the reader. But I will say it was nice to read a Young Adult novel that for once said “It’s OK to not have sex constantly” rather than detailing magical, perfect, wonderful sex between 15-year-olds. * eye roll* (I suspect Peterfreund had some very strong opinions about teen sex, and it’s overuse in other YA lit. Not that I minded. I’m just speculating.) I loved the change in unicorn lore–not being portrayed as cute, friendly, rainbow-farting morons who just want to cuddle. Considering they are mythical creatures that don’t actually exist, I didn’t find anything wrong with them being portrayed as killers instead of docile cuties.
I liked Astrid a lot in this story, too. She was smart and snarky. I liked her from the moment she said, “I was far less interested in protecting my virtue than I was in not giving it up to a boy who couldn’t pass intermediate French.” I liked her scientific mind and that she didn’t just accept her “destiny,” wanting to change the way things had always been done. I found her reactions to her ridiculous circumstances to be realistic and relatively smart. I liked the character of her cousin Philippa, too. She was a nice balance to Astrid’s seriousness and she was much more outspoken about wanting things her way and not caring what anyone else thought.
I did wish we had more information about some of the supporting characters, like the young girls in the Convent. I kept getting them confused, and a few names popped up that I didn’t remember reading about until that moment. They seemed to disappear and reappear in the story at will, like Peterfreund wasn’t really sure what to do with them when they weren’t in conversation with the leading characters. I just found it a little strange. I also couldn’t figure out what the title had to do with the story. The cover was really cool though.
Overall a good story, a quick read (I read it in a little more than a day, granted I am on summer vacation and didn’t really do much else during that day) and it was a nice change from the high fantasy I had just finished the day before. If you like unicorns, go out and read Rampant.