Rampant is a YA fantasy thriller by Diana Peterfreund that puts a whole new spin on unicorns. Seriously.
Astrid Llewelyn has heard her mother's crazy stories since she was a little girl. Instead of sweet stories of pretty unicorns that bring love and innocence to a cruel world, her mother tends to rave about how its all a bunch of propaganda and unicorns were actually bloodthirsty killers until being hunted to extinction by virginal girls descended from Alexander the Great, the only ones with the power and ability to put down any of these near-impossible to kill beasts.
Yeah, Astrid tries to keep her Mom from talking about that too much in front of other people.
But when Astrid takes a stroll outside with her visiting boyfriend during a baby-sitting stint, her boyfriend is attacked. By something that looks suspiciously like a unicorn. The attack is violent and vicious, yet instead of turning its bloodlust on Astrid the unicorn nudges her and wants a pet before running off. Astrid is sure she's gone utterly insane, except for the near-dead guy laying on the ground by her, bleeding and suffocating from a potent poison that she's doesn't recognize, even after all her days volunteering at the hospital in her mission to be a doctor.
Feeling the reality she's always known crash around her, Astrid places a call to her Mom right before the ambulance, and her mother arrives with the tiny bottle that she has always announced is one of the last remnants of the secret Remedy the Hunters knew to cure unicorn poisoning. And watching as the clotted stuff heals him, Astrid's life changes.
Because Astrid's Mom is head over heels excited. The scenario she hears from her daughter points to only one conclusion, Astrid is a descendant of Alexander the Great, born to be a Hunter, and there is a reemergence of unicorns, which will prove that all these years she has not been insane. She quickly contacts other oddballs throughout the world that know the truth, and before Astrid can protest too loudly, her mother sends her off to the newly reopened Cloister to train to kill the monsters that are beginning to attack more and more people and animals.
Once there, Astrid begins to learn what it means to be a Hunter and is horrified. The power is intense, the task is bloody, and some of her fellow Hunters seem to be hiding something. Then there's the handsome art student she meets that makes her break a bunch of rules from the strict Cloister... and possibly make her ineligible for reentry...
The beginning of Rampant is fun, creative, and startling - introducing a vivacious, strong, personality-filled voice in Astrid. My initial interest in the premise of the novel was quickly rewarded with a stunningly original idea and execution. This was another one of the books that caught my eye after reading the YA short story compilation Kiss Me Deadly, in which Diana Peterfreund had a haunting and amazing entry that took place in the same universe as Rampant, only many years earlier. I was super excited to finally get a chance to read it!!!
Diana Peterfreund does not shy away from making the novel at times very shocking and unsettling, disturbing and cruel. This is something I recognized when I read Errant, the short story in Kiss Me Deadly. I don't love to get disturbed or read about too much violence, it's just not me. But the way in which Diana Peterfreund writes it, it adds so much depth and layers to Rampant, creating unexpectedly scary, surprising characters, thoroughly creepy unicorns, and thrilling coming-to-their-own powers, plus a tentative, modern romance. The darker moments are... dark. But Astrid's believable response to these moments helps to keep the reader (i.e., me) grounded.
Rampant is electrifying, nail-biting, powerful, gripping, mixing modern-day culture with a violent mythology that feels legend-worthy - creating a truly unique, excellent, page-turner! The characters are dynamic, sizzling with life and individuality, and meet (sometimes literally) drop-dead-crazy situations with an astonishing realism and (at times) humor.
And its written in such a way that I felt it, saw it, and smelt it all. I was right there with these girls-turned-reluctant-warriors. This is an addictive, if oftentimes unpleasant, world that is ripe with twists and turns and action.
It was pretty awesome.
Which is why I am already diving at Ascendant, the sequel. Because Diana Peterfreund has clearly not told us all the secrets and mythology yet...