Author Spooner made several smart choices with this retelling of Beauty and the Beast: Russian folklore is mixed with hard fantasy to give a very unique story. The Beast is feral, the sisters good hearted, and the suitor for our heroine is not an evil person. But at the same time, the story is fairly inert for most of the book, the love story never really developed, and many of the characters were fairly hard to like.
Yeva and her sisters live in the City as part of the nobility. Yeva (named Beauty at birth by her father) is being courted by the man that Yeva’s gentle sister secretly loves. When the family’s fortune wavers and they return to the distant forest lodge their father used to call home, Yeva is secretly happy to return to her love of hunting and be free of court intrigue. But their father is not right in the head and has gone hunting the Beast whose body he feels can change his fortune. When Yeva, who is as skilled a hunter as her remarkable father, goes after him, she finds herself beaten and imprisoned by an unknown jailer. Despairing, she has only one goal – to kill the beast who killed her father.
The basis of this story is Beauty and the Beast meets Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf. Spooner seamlessly weaves the Russian and French myths together into a coherent but grim story. Where the story falters, however, is not where most readers would expect. This isn’t a “Barely even friends then somebody bends” Disney tale and instead involves a brew of hate and despair. As such, we don’t spend much of the book with the two protagonists getting to know each other so much as hurting or torturing the other. Those looking for a sweet tale won’t find it in Hunted but readers wanting an edgier and darker take on the fairy tale will likely enjoy this book for its uniqueness.
Most problematic for me is that there just wasn’t enough emphasis on the relationship to warrant a love story at the heart. The Beast cultivates an atmosphere of hate and pain (yes for a reason) and Yeva is so one-sided in her determination to destroy/maim the Beast that not even Stockholm Syndrome would explain the attraction to each other by the end. It’s dark cold dungeons, broken bones, and slit throats rather than pretty dresses and dancing talking candles.
Because the Beauty and the Beast tale is interwoven with Ivan, Spooner has quite a bit to work with and doesn’t spend too much time with the ‘getting to know each other’ part. That is both a positive and a detractor, though. We get an interesting retelling but we also lose the heart of Beauty and the Beast – that outside appearances aren’t as important as the goodness within. Since Beast is feral, barely sentient, that point is completely lost.
Because I didn’t believe the relationship, the ending lost its relevance for me. Oddly enough, I really like how Yeva’s sisters fared more; indeed, I really liked her suitor who stayed true to her despite her single mindedness. The story does tie up quite nicely and clearly a lot of great thought was put into creating an intriguing concept. I only wish the heart of Beauty and the Beast (the romance) was retained rather than adding in the quest for the Firebird. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.