Author: Diana Peterfreund
Series: Killer Unicorns #1
Publisher: Harper Teen
Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns... Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. Fortunately, they've been extinct for a hundred and fifty years. Or not.Astrid had always scoffed at her eccentric mother's stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend, Astrid finds herself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries. However, at the cloisters all is not what it seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from the crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to—perhaps most dangerously of all—her growing attraction to a handsome art student ... an attraction that could jeopardize everything
So I admit, I was SUPER skeptical after the first chapter of this book. I really need to start reading cover descriptions or whatever BEFORE I start a book so I know what I'm getting into. From the cover, I thought this was just another high fantasy with knights and mages and sword fighting and what not...nope. I'm not even quite sure what genre Rampant falls under. It's obviously a fantasy, but it's not quite paranormal, not quite urban fantasy...really, where do you put a book about killer unicorns anyway? And yeah, you read that right...killer...unicorns. When I got into the first couple chapters and realized that this was the topic, I almost laughed haughtily, thinking that a book like that HAS to be a joke and I would hate the book. Yeah, well...laugh's on me because it turned out to actually be very good. Most people think unicorns are beautiful, magical, fantastic creatures...well Rampant tears that conception away to be replaces with bloodthirsty beasts with fangs and poisonous venom in their horns.
The book starts off with Astrid (ack name vomit) getting a little hot and heavy with her boyfriend in the woods while she's supposed to be babysitting. Then her life is pretty much turned on it's head when a freaking unicorn shows up and gores her boyfriend. The poison in it's horn spreads fast, and the only thing Astrid can think of to do is call her mother, whose crazy unicorn "history" has kept her the family's oddball insanity case for years. Luckily, her mom shows up in time to save him, though their relationship is pretty much over. Astrid has no choice but to listen to her mom's crack pot stories now that she's seen proof of the unicorn's existence. She now has to go to Italy, to the ancient cloister that serves as the training grounds for all of her ancestors and all of the descendants of Alexander the Great (who are all unicorn hunters as well).
I know it's supposed to be about KILLER unicorns, but I couldn't help but fall in love with little Bonegrinder! According to this mythology, there are 5 different kinds of unicorns in escalating castes, and each rung is deadlier and more vicious than the last. The first group is called the zhi and they are cute adorable little things that normal people would call unicorns...unless you aren't a virgin unicorn hunter and then they will attack you with both horn and fangs. Definitely interesting...Bonegrinder is kind of the house pet in the cloisters, and he is used to determine if a potential unicorn hunter is "pure" (archaic much?) Only the virgin unicorn hunters have immunity to unicorn poison, and can survive being gored by their horns (unless of course they die from blood loss or being gored in a vital organ) Anyone else will be poisoned and die withing minutes. Even though I got used to the killing of the unicorns, it did take me a while. There was a lot of violence and a particularly vivid scene when one of the potential unicorn hunters gets gored through the chest. Unfortunately, the who time all I could picture was a bunch of girls chasing around and stabbing a pretty innocent unicorn like in Legend or Harry Potter or The Last Unicorn. But eventually I got over it. When you picture a unicorn that is poisonous, has fangs, is black and red, and is also the size of an elephant, they are in a whole league of their own compared to the traditional idea of a unicorn.
There were a few things I disliked in this book...the main one being the names. Astrid, Lilith, Giovanni, Melissende, Ursula, Dorcas, and the list just goes on and on. Now don't get me wrong, I am all for unusual and original names, if they make sense in the context of a piece. For example, Giovanni would work fine for a historical fiction set in Italy during the 16 or 17 hundreds...or if there was an "immortal" in a paranormal series that hailed from that time period. This book was full of modern day characters with straight up ridiculous names. They really threw me off and I had a hard time distinguishing characters because of how random and ludicrous their names were. The mother/daughter dynamics of this book were really frustrating as well. It was almost as if Peterfreund never had a mom, or never had a conversation with one during her teenage years. The dialogue between Astrid and Lillith was very forced and unrealistic. And it's kind of an odd complaint, but I really hated how Astrid calls her mom Lilith. Usually, you see a teen call a parent by their real name if some form of distancing has taken place, i.e. fight, divorce, etc.(ex: Bella and Charlie in Twilight) However in Rampant, it just seemed wrong. I was irritated that she didn't call her mom "Mom" even though she claimed that she loved her very much.
I think the strongest aspect of Rampant was the plot. It was probably one of the most original concepts that I have read in years, and it kept me interested despite it's faults. There were a lot of different story lines going on, from the creation of a miracle drug from the unicorn's venom, to gorgeous art students, to the different hunter families, to actually learning how to kill the unicorns. Twists and turns abound in the last few chapters when basically all we think we know about the unicorns and the hunters is shaken up with a bit of knowledge courtesy of a terrifying unicorn long thought dead. There was a lot of world to build up in just one book and I felt that Ms. Peterfreund did it wonderfully. The story really grew on me near the end, and I loved the way that all of the characters kind of made a team or whatever. There should be some interesting group dynamics now that the school has a new donna, but I am really excited to see where this series goes.
I think I'll give Rampant 3 and 1/3 Keys out of 5. It was good, but there were quite a few things that bugged me. I had a hard time identifying with a lot of the characters, and sometimes characters seemed to switch personalities in the middle of the book which really threw me. I also could barely wrap my head around the idea of killing unicorns. I guess I'm like the millions of other people in the world who think unicorns are cute fluffy magical creatures. Almost all of my problems with the book seemed to be resolved or fixed near the end, so I ended the book with a really positive opinion, and am really looking forward to reading the second book in the series, Ascendant.