by Diana Peterfreund
Review by Cathy Green
HarperTeen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061490002
Date: 01 September 2009 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It's never easy for a teenager who has a parent who insists on reliving past glory or the glory that should have been but never was through his or her offspring. However, Astrid Llewellyn has it worst than most. Most parents just make their kids practice the piano until they hate the instrument they used to love or practice making jump shots for so many hours that the formerly fun activity becomes a chore; Lilith Llewellyn wants her daughter to become a unicorn hunter and have the glory that Lilith was denied due to unicorns allegedly having been wiped out. And these are not the cute unicorns that went through an unfortunate My Little Ponyfication in the 1970s. No, these are vicious, venomous, carnivorous, fanged, man-eating unicorns.
Astrid didn't believe her mother's stories about unicorns. Then, one night while making out with her boyfriend, a small unicorn come out of the woods, bows to her and gores her boyfriend. Astrid chases off the unicorn and calls her mother for help. Her mother arrives, happily gloating about being right and feeds her boyfriend a magic elixir from a vial. The incident ultimately gets explained away as weird wild animal attack. However, instead of being grateful for having his life saved, Astrid's boyfriend starts avoiding her and telling stories at school about Astrid and her crazy mother. As a result, when her mother announces that she's found out through a web search that the Cloisters of Ctesias have been reopened and that she's sending Astrid to Rome to be a Unicorn Hunter, Astrid is not entirely unhappy about it. Although she's certainly more sensible about it than her mother, who does not stop to wonder who the people are who are funding the enterprise and running it.
Astrid's mother won't listen to reason, so off Astrid goes to Rome, where her doubts are enforced by the dilapidated convent and her possibly psychotic roommate, whose response to the cute little unicorn who wanders into their room is to shriek uncontrollably and throw him off the balcony. Astrid soon learns from Neil, the man in charge of the novice hunters, that the adorable unicorn is called a zhi, and that the zhi worship the Hunters but will kill and eat anyone else (and will turn on a Hunter if she loses her virginity). The zhi are also the unicorns that look the most like the creatures traditionally seen in tapestries. The other kinds of unicorns are the Re'em, Kirin and Karkadan, and they all want to kill people, including their enemies, the Hunters. Astrid is soon joined by her cousin Philippa and numerous other girls, who come from various family lines known for producing Hunters. It turns out that the Llewellyns are supposed to be the most powerful, and that Clothilde Llewellyn, the founder of the line and the greatest Hunter even killed a Karkadan, the largest and most powerful of the unicorn species. Alexander the Great's horse Bucephalus was rumored to have been a Karkadan and the real reason behind his success as a general.
When the Hunters have been gathered, they learn that the Cloisters have been reopened under the sponsorship of Martin Jaeger and the Gordian Institute. The Gordian wants the unicorns for their horns and venom so they can learn to make the Remedy, a magic elixir which can cure anything. Astrid and her cousin Philippa start to wonder whether the Gordian Institute really has their best interests at heart, especially since Martin Jaeger seems reluctant to tell them anything about what he is doing and does not seem overly concerned about whether the Hunters, who are all teenage girls, will be hurt or killed when hunting the unicorns.
In addition to learning about being a Hunter, Astrid also has to adjust to living with a disparate group of girls at what is essentially a boarding school for unicorn hunters. Astrid must also deal with her ambivalent feelings about being a Hunter. Much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Astrid must figure out how to balance being a regular teenage girl with all the wants and desires that go with being a teenager and her being to be a celibate unicorn hunter. At least Buffy did not have to worry about whether sleeping with a boy would lead to being eaten by a unicorn. So basically, Astrid has to deal with all the normal things a teenage girl deals with, just with a side order of killer unicorns.
Diana Peterfreund has written and exciting and fast-paced young adult novel that takes the unicorn back to its traditional roots as a terrifying magical creature. In the Cloisters of Ctesias and the history of the hunters, Peterfreund has fun playing with various mythologies from around the world (such as the greek myth about Artemis and Actaeon), and Astrid and her cousin Philippa have a great relationship and act like real teenagers, albeit real teenagers thrust into very unusual circumstances. Rampant is an engaging look at unicorns and the girls who hunt them and is an absolute must read.