Author: Diana Peterfreund

Publication: 2009, Harper Teen

Pages: 402

Overall Rating:                        

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Astrid has grown up on her mother’s stories of violent killer unicorns.  She stopped believing in them long ago and sometimes resents her mother for the obsession that has led them to a life of poverty.  Then, while making out in the woods with her boyfriend, they are attacked by a wild unicorn.  While Astrid is horrified, her mother is thrilled beyond belief, and Astrid soon finds herself shipped off to the newly re-opened Cloisters of Ctesias in Rome, an ancient convent and training ground for the Order of the Lioness – a group of virgin unicorn hunters descended from Alexander the Great.   Astrid must face her fears as she struggles to adapt to life within the Cloisters – where the walls are filled with unicorn bones that vibrate whenever she draws near – her growing romantic attraction to the hot Giovanni, and the constant threat of unicorn attacks.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: Astrid has a wonderful, lively voice that leaps off the page, dripping with humor, sarcasm, and angst.  It was a pleasure to roam through her mind as she navigates her first real romance and the weird, terrifying world of unicorn hunting.

The unicorns themselves are incredible.  Take everything you’ve ever thought or heard about unicorns and toss it out the window.  Peterfreund’s unicorns are vicious man-eating beasts, all muscle and fangs, and the venom in their horn is enough to kill anyone other than a hunter with little more than a scratch.  They’re truly the stuff of nightmares.

The opening page really grabbed me.  It’s got a classic line.  Astrid is babysitting two little girls and cannot stand their obsession with saccharine unicorns.  She mentions that one of their bedrooms is even “ringed with a wallpaper border of unicorn heads with shimmering eyes and horns that glow in the dark.”

And here it is: “I could hear Lilith now: Well, kiddo, at least it means they’ve been decapitated.”   Classic, and a perfect illustration of the book’s tone.

What I Liked the Least: I know it’s intentional, but I thought the portrayal of Astrid’s mom, Lilith, was over the top.  Peterfreund could have benefited from a little more subtlety in her portrayal of the obsessed mom.  That really came home in two scenes where Astrid tries to talk to her mom about how dangerous hunting unicorns is, how she’s terrified and wants out.  Lilith doesn’t listen to a thing she’s saying – just talks over her about the glories of their ancestors, how she’s going to make the line of Llewelyn’s proud, and how sacrifice and death are part of being a hunter.  It’s all a bit too cavalier and unloving, and I think Peterfreund could have achieved the same effect without going quite so over the top.

My only other problem with the book was that there were too many hunters, and because all of the hunters are important characters I found it very hard to keep track of who everyone was – especially among some of the more minor hunters.  It was easy to mix them up and to lose any real sense of what their characters were supposed to be like.  This isn’t a serious problem, since most of the focus is on Astrid and a couple of other hunters.  But there were times when I found myself wondering – now, who is this hunter again and what am I supposed to know about them?

How Good was the Action?  It’s pretty variable.  Most of the action centers around their battles with the unicorns, of which there are maybe five or six in total.  Some of them are really well done.  They’re bloody affairs with just the right mix of great blow-by-blow action, emotions, and taut atmosphere.  But some of the fights were too focused on the big picture.  They lacked any real blow-by-blow detail and relied on blood and fear.  It works.  I was definitely caught up in the scenes, but it wasn’t necessarily great action writing.  So, it’s a mixed bag.

But the thing to remember about this novel is that the actual unicorn battles represent a tiny part of the overall book.  Like I said, there are maybe half a dozen battles and most don’t last more than a few pages.  The focus of the book is not on the battles – it’s on Astrid’s struggle to accept her role as a unicorn hunter, her rocky relationship with her mother, Giovanni, and the other hunters, and a shadowy  conspiracy between a rogue group of unicorns and the self-styled descendent of Alexander the Great.  So while some of the action scenes really rock, this is not a book to read for the action.

How Engaging was the Story? This is a fun book and there’s always something to keep you reading  – a great voice, angst, a rocky romance, man-eating unicorns, virgins hunters (or ‘wildlife control nuns’ as Astrid once describes the Order of the Lioness) and a shadowy conspiracy.  If that’s not enough to keep you turning the pages then I don’t know what is.

Overall Assessment: This is pure fun, a wildly unique take on the world of unicorns with strong romantic elements.  Like most books in that genre – female lead with romantic elements – It’s not an action-packed slug-fest, but there are some excellent and surprisingly bloody battles.  This is just a rollicking good, angst- ridden ride and I encourage you to hop on board and check it out.

Profanity: None

Sex: Yes, and some of it is moderately graphic.  There’s a fair bit of making out, and Giovanni does make it to second base.  Phil’s cousin gets raped, but it’s only described second hand in minimal detail.

Violence: Yes.  The fights with the unicorns tend to be bloody affairs.  The hunters get gored and trampled.  They shoot unicorns in the gut, cut their throats, stab them all over, and gouge their eyes out.  Unicorns are even torn apart.  It’s a bloody, no holds barred affair where everyone ends up covered in gore. 

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