BEAUTY AND THE BEAST gets a dark, delightful twist in HUNTED.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Beauty and the Beast is kind of a big deal this week. But it’s not just Disney making a stir with its live-action musical. Part of the hype belongs to Meagan Spooner, co-author of the Starbound series, and her clever, original take on the classic tale.
Hunted doesn’t heedlessly take from either the popularized Disney story nor the founding French fairy tale. It takes out the kiddie elements and adds in extra depth for a darker, more riveting story sans dancing dishware and garish Gaston. It’s a story that helps you realize just how tainted we’ve all been by the Disney adaptation, but don’t worry, this novel has plenty of fierceness and magical lore of its own to make up for it.
The story follows Yeva, a teenager who spent all of her younger days frolicking in the woods with her father, a legendary huntsman. Now it’s her time to become a “proper lady” and while she doesn’t love sewing circles or society dinners, she’s pretty much resigned to it. She wants more, but who is she to complain about the happy home at the edge of town she shares with her two sisters and father?
It all changes when her father’s business goes bankrupt and the family is forced to give up their land. Soon, they’re living in an old cabin days away from town and barely scraping by. Yeva’s father, who gave her the family-only nickname of “Beauty” long ago, believes he can pay back his debts by capturing and selling a fabled beast he’d encountered in the forest long ago– The Beast. When Yeva’s father goes missing, she leaves her sisters with food she’s hunted and the help of a kind-hearted suitor, Solmir, whom Yeva reluctantly agrees to marry upon her return. Little does she know she won’t be returning.
Yeva is captured by The Beast, trapped in his decrepit, lonely castle. But The Beast doesn’t want to hurt Yeva– he needs her. Particularly, he needs a bold hunter who can become attuned to the magic in his world and end his curse. There’s only one slight complication: He can’t actually talk about the curse or explain the task Yeva will have to complete to earn her freedom. Instead, The Beast shows Yeva the whimsy beyond her average life that she always craved, introducing her to a lush landscape of impossibilities come to life. He also can offer her something else that roils beneath her skin: The opportunity for sweet, bloody revenge.
As you can guess, no one would call Yeva’s connection to The Beast in this novel Stockholm Syndrome. She does indeed form a bond with The Beast, but it’s not what you’d expect at first. She sees being with him as a path to something she craves. He sees her as a potential solution to his problems. Neither are easily satisfied, but is through their stories and discoveries that they come together. Yeva is a tough-as-nails hunter who won’t bow down to The Beast, but she’s not invulnerable to the terror he inflicts. Half-man, half-animal, and always battling against his feral instincts, The Beast is super intriguing and delving into his backstory is a wicked delight. The situation between the two can be precarious, at best, but that’s what makes it interesting. There’s one scene in particular that’s a breathtaking shocker, but I won’t spoil the fun for you.
Despite being a little more practical that other takes on the tale as old as time, Hunted never loses its sense of whimsy. Yeva’s world is vast and carefully planned, adding in some historical elements while maintaining its own aura. The Beast’s world of magic and mystery is a little more expansive and has a lot to offer the story, from intriguing characters with tricky motivations to fantastical landscapes. Things definitely picked up in Beast’s world, but Yeva’s had plenty of offer. In both worlds, the story truly felt like a fairy tale.
While I enjoyed the novel, I can’t quite give this book five stars because I feel the third act faltered a bit. The premise for the ending was really intriguing, but when it came to the overall execution, it was a little disappointing. It tied in a fable-like lesson that I really didn’t feel was strongly woven throughout the story, thus leaving things a bit disjointed. I thought “Oh, was that what it was all supposed to be about?”
Beauty and the Beast doesn’t get many solid retellings, but Hunted does a great job crafting something wholly original out of bones of a favorite while still maintaining a sense of wonder. We think readers who love the previous versions but are open to some change will really be gripped by this novel.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
Hunted is out today. You can pre-order now via Amazon.
Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones–and in her blood.
Though Yeva 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?