March Book Review: Hunted

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Hunted

By: Meagan Spooner

Release Date: March 14, 2017

*Beware: Spoilers Ahead!*

Official Synopsis:

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood.

She knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

But Yeva’s grown up far from her father’s old lodge, raised to be part of the city’s highest caste of aristocrats.  Still, she’s never forgotten the feel of a bow in her hands, and she’s spent a lifetime longing for the freedom of the hunt.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved.  Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronesses…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman.

But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts the strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures Yeva’s heard about only in fairy tales.  A world that can bring her ruin—or salvation.

Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?


My Synopsis:

Beauty used to live for the hunt, for the feel of the forest in her bones, in her soul.  She used to know the forest’s secrets almost as well as her father, the only hunter who had
ever been close to learning the truth of the woods.

Although Yeva left the forest and her nickname behind a long time ago, she yearns for her days in the wilderness.  There she can truly be herself, the hunter more comfortable tracking her prey with a bow in her hand than playing the role of an aristocrat or agreeing to marry a man she barely knows.

When her father’s fortune is lost, Yeva gets her wish to return to the forest of her childhood.  But her joy may have come at the cost of her father’s sanity, and when he goes missing, it’s up to Yeva to hunt down the creature of her father’s stories, the one he’d claimed was hunting him in his final days.

Leaving her sisters under the care of her eager fiancé, Yeva enters the forest in search of the Beast, but what she discovers is more than she could’ve imagined: an endless winter, a ruined castle, a hidden world of fairy tales come to life, and a man under a terrible curse.  A curse that could give Yeva everything she’s ever wanted—or lead to her destruction.

When the magic is cleared, will both be left standing, or will Beauty kill the Beast?


My Thoughts:

Beauty and the Beast is one of my all-time favorite fairy tales.  The first movie I ever saw in theaters was the Disney animated version of the film, and although I don’t remember it myself, my mother likes to tell the story of how I, eagerly awaiting the movie and clearly not understanding previews, repeatedly complained, “That’s not Beauty and the Beast” until the film finally started.  She also likes to tell how I rather loudly exclaimed, “They wuv each other!” when Belle and the human Beast finally kissed.

Needless to say, Beauty and the Beast was a story that held a special place in my heart from the very beginning, and it remains there to this day. And while I never get tired of watching the animated film or listening to the soundtrack, I’m a reader at heart, so I’m always on the search for a good Beauty and the Beast-related tale. Yes, there’s the original tale, but that’s only so long, and it doesn’t provide that much excitement, so I’ve greedily searched for any and all retellings.

Some people greatly dislike retellings, but I think they’re a great way to explore a fairy tale, a folk tale, or some aspect of mythology in a different context.  Retellings can update the story, flesh out the characters, and generally make the story more relevant for current readers.  I’ve read a lot of great retellings of Beauty and the Beast over the years, and I’ve loved how different authors can take the same basic story and create such unique and exciting worlds and characters all their own.  I’ve encountered a version of Belle who is part cat, a version of the Beast who seems to promise happily ever after until his protective nature forces the heroine to fight for her freedom, and a version of the story tightly twisted with the tale of Little Red Riding Hood.  I’ve even fallen in love with a Belle that falls in love with another Beast entirely: Rumpelstiltskin.

But no matter how many times or ways I explored the old French tale, I wanted more.  Of course, when I heard Disney was making a live-action remake, I was beyond excited.  Every mention of the film had me stifling squeals of delight, and while I was a tad bit afraid Disney would ruin my beloved tale, I should’ve known better.

But this isn’t a review of the movie, although I will say if you haven’t seen it, go.  Now.  Go see it now.  I don’t care what other plans you had, cancel them.  This movie is worth every accolade and more.

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This is a review of Hunted, one of the newest—and easily one of my favorite—retellings of Beauty and the Beast.  I don’t know if the publication of this book was planned to be so close to the release of the new movie, but it was perfect timing for me.  As soon as I’d seen the movie, I was in need of more, and Hunted was there to fill the hole with a strong heroine, wonderful world-building, and a healthy dose of Russian folklore to create an entirely new take on this story.

I loved Yeva (AKA Beauty) from the very beginning.  It’s quite clear that she doesn’t feel truly comfortable being part of the baroness’s inner circle, and I like that she’s able to make the best of an irritating situation by taking the unwanted window seat, which gives her a view of the forest.  Yeva immediately fits the bill for being a ‘funny girl,’ because although she is polite enough, it’s clear that she’s clueless about social dynamics.  She has no idea Solmir, the man likely to the baron’s heir, has his eye on her, and I’m glad that it’s firmly established that Yeva’s motives are quite different from the other aristocrats.  She isn’t looking to catch a husband, she’s only hoping for opportunities to be herself, whether that means predicting a winter storm to free her from her sewing circle a little early or having dinner discussions about the best way to skin a deer. 

But despite Yeva not quite fitting into high society, she’s still quite accomplished in her own way.  She’s a skilled hunter, she’s good with dogs, and while she may not be a proficient cook, she knows her way around the kitchen.  I love that Yeva is skilled in these areas because these are the things that let her be with those she loved.  Her father taught her to hunt, and they’d bonded over their time spend together I the forest.  Yeva loved learning from her father and hearing the fairy tales he would tell her, and she grows to be the favorite daughter as a result.  Yeva’s relationship with the family dogs grew out of her hunting trips with her father, where the dogs would help them track and flush out prey.  Although Pelei and Doe-Eyes are part of the family, they both see Yeva as their favorite, particularly Doe-Eyes. Yeva’s relationship with Doe-Eyes is sweet, and they look after one another not matter what.  And finally, it’s working in the kitchen, building the fire and seasoning the bread, that gives Yeva a chance to be with her sisters.

I love the relationship between Yeva and her two older sisters.  The sisters in the original story were arrogant and prideful, and they jealously hated Beauty for her sweetness and her good looks.  Asenka and Lena could not be more unlike those original sisters.  They’re both sweet, loving, and very protective of their littlest sister. They know Yeva is their father’s favorite, but they don’t mind, and they trust one another with their hopes and dreams like sisters should.  Asenka in particular is also boundlessly selfless, always putting her sisters’ happiness above her own.  It breaks my heart to see her giving up her hope of marrying Solmir when he instead asks for Yeva’s hand, but Asenka would rather have her own heart broken than see her sister suffer.  The sisterly love between Yeva, Asenka, and Lena is incredibly heartwarming and so realistically portrayed, and I love that the bond between them grows even tighter when the family is forced to move to their father’s old hunting lodge.  The three girls don’t let their misfortune tear them apart; instead they step up and work to make the best of things, knowing that all they have left is each other, and that’s all they really need.

Once they’re back at the hunting lodge, Yeva begins to show more of her true self rather than the façade she had to put up for the people in town.  She finds solace in the woods and her hunting, and her desire to provide for her family shows through in ways it never could when she part of the baroness’s court.  Her sisters’ protectiveness really shows here, too, as they worry about Yeva being out in the woods by herself, and although they try to find ways to keep her at home, Asenka and Lena know that the forest is where Yeva is truly herself.

Although we see Yeva hunting, it’s not until her father fails to come back from one of his own hunting trips that we really see Yeva’s ferocity.  Ignoring her sisters’ pleas to stay, Yeva takes off into the woods, focused only on finding her father and bringing him home.  She runs herself ragged following the trail, her worry for her father far greater than her concern for herself.  And when she finds her father dead, seemingly at the paws of an impossibly large creature, what little concern Yeva does have for herself flies out the window; all Yeva can think about it revenge, even if it costs her own life to get it.  Yeva is far more bloodthirsty than most versions of Beauty, but it perfectly suits her character.  She’s a hunter who loves her family more than anything, and when faced with the monster who viciously killed and mutilated her beloved father, of course she’s going to want to take it down.

Anger makes people reckless, though, so it’s really no surprise that Yeva’s plan to kill the Beast doesn’t quite work out.  Instead of killing him, Yeva finds herself his prisoner, chained in a cold, dark cell with no chance of being rescued.  No chance, that is, until she begins to make friends with a man she believes is also a captive, a man who listens to her stories and tries to make her more comfortable.  I love this little twist here; we know that the man Yeva is befriending is actually the Beast himself, and so it’s interesting to see how she begins to open up to him knowing that he will never help her escape.  It’s also interesting to see the Beast slowly begin to warm up to Yeva.  He gives her what she asks for—to an extent—and he begins to treat her less like a prisoner and more like a friend.  When she gets sick, he even moves her to a room in the castle and gives her back her bow and tools so she can make arrows to pass the time.  It’s different to see ‘Beauty’ getting along with the Beast so early in the story, but it’s a dishonest relationship, and when Yeva betrays the Beast’s trust and discovers his true identity, that relationship rapidly deteriorates.

It’s during this initial portion of Yeva’s captivity that Russian folklore beings to be woven into the otherwise largely-familiar story.  I’ve recently been reading more stories involving Russian folktales or reading the folktales themselves, so I was rather excited to recognize many of the stories Yeva shared with the Beast.  In the context of the story, the tales had been told to Yeva by her father, and repeating them makes her feel closer to him and also gives her something to focus on besides her situation.  But of course, these stories have a larger purpose, and I love getting to see the aspects of these different tales incorporated into Yeva’s journey.  For example, the Beast keeps waiting for someone—specifically, a guy—to come and rescue Yeva so that the Beast can use that man to break the curse.  Instead, he discovers that it’s Yeva herself that’s a hunter, proving just like Vasilisa that girls can be clever and cunning and capable, even more so than men sometimes.  It’s a well-executed blending of fairy tales from different cultures, and I’ve never read a Russian-influenced retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so I was pleasantly surprised to see aspects of Yeva’s story pop up in the narrative.

Once he realizes that Yeva is the hunter he’s been looking for, the Beast begins training Yeva to hunt a different type of prey.  The story begins to pick up at this point, with Yeva and the Beast interacting more and more and really feeling each other out.  Yeva’s still determined to kill the Beast and avenge her father, but she knows she has to wait for the right opportunity to strike.  If she fails to kill the Beast, he’ll kill her and then her family, and Yeva would rather bide her time as a captive than see her sisters hurt.  The Beast, on the other hand, starts to become less and less animalistic.  Sure, he still hunts like a wolf, and he lashes out like a wild animal, but he begins to speak more, and his treatment of Yeva becomes more friend-like once again.  There’s still a lot of animosity between the two, but there are also some moments of genuine kindness and gratitude.  I absolutely love that the Beast gives Yeva unrestricted access to his library, which, although far smaller and more personal than the grand library of the Disney films, is still a precious gift.  The fact that a love of reading is perhaps the only common thread between all the different versions of Beauty I’ve encountered truly warms my heart. It shows that people of all types, with drastically different backgrounds and interests and dreams, can love books.  Stories have the power to change people, as Yeva’s stories have already shown, reaching into not just the mind and the heart, but reaching into the very soul of a person and making them better.

In addition to furthering the relationship between Yeva and the Beast, this training section also greatly expands the world of the story.  Yeva explores what’s left of the Beast’s castle, and although she doesn’t find an enchanted rose, she does find clues to the Beast’s past and what happened to him.  But it’s really outside the castle that Yeva learns the most.  With the Beast’s help, Yeva learns to see the wood hidden within the wood, a world full of magic and fairy tale creatures, including the one that Yeva must hunt to break the Beast’s curse.  This is another nice twist, as it opens up an enchanted world that had really been missed up to that point.  Without any of the cursed staff that I’m so familiar with around to constantly provide a reminder of the curse, it’s easier to forget that magic really exists in Yeva’s world.  Frankly, I like that there isn’t anyone else in the castle, as it allows for more focus on Yeva and the Beast both individually and in their interactions with one another, and this reminder of magic is more subtle and more powerful. It fulfills the sense of wonder that Yeva has always possessed, and it helps her realize that her father hadn’t been crazy, just able to see more than the average person.

It’s worth pointing out that the descriptions of the castle and both the normal and enchanted woods are written quite thoroughly and very straightforward, just as a hunter like Yeva would see them.  It’s a much more down-to-earth view of the world, which is exactly what I would expect from Yeva, and it really strengthens her characterization.

As Yeva’s hunting and training skills grow, she knows her chance to kill the Beast is growing closer and closer, and she finally decides the time is right.  She sneaks up to the Beast’s room one night, prepared to kill him while he’s sleeping.  She’s not prepared, however, to see the Beast as a human, sleeping peacefully and muttering her name, but that’s not enough to stop her from stabbing him in the throat.

And so the Beast dies.

But he doesn’t stay dead.  This scene kills me, with the Beast heartbreakingly explaining that he, too, is a prisoner, unable to die and escape his curse.  And upon truly understanding the Beast’s plight and seeing his true kindness, Yeva realizes that he didn’t kill her father, and that’s there no way to avenge him.

Heartbroken by her father’s death all over again, Yeva leaves the Beast to return to her sisters.  But she finds almost a year has passed and that the hunting lodge stands empty.  Yeva eventually tracks her sisters back to their home in town, and their reunion is as heartwarming as the Beast’s quick reversion to the wolf is tragic.  I like seeing Yeva back with her family, but it’s clear that, just as in the beginning, it isn’t where she belongs.  It doesn’t take long for Yeva to realize that she must return and rescue the Beast, that despite all the initial terribleness, his castle was the only place she doesn’t feel lonely.  They’ve both done horrible things to one another, but they’ve both changed, and now while Yeva is free, the Beast is still a prisoner.  Yeva plans to leave, only to be stopped by her sisters, who beg her to stay long enough for Asenka’s wedding—to Solmir! —and Yeva agrees.

Unfortunately, that means that by the time Yeva returns to the Beast’s castle, he’s gone  All Yeva finds is the book he was reading the night she stabbed him, the book that gives Yeva the final clue to the Beast’s curse.  For inside the book is the lineage of the royal family, including a young prince named Eovan.  And marking the page is a feather, not of a guinea fowl as Yeva had originally assumed, but of the Firebird.  Yeva realizes that the Beast is the Ivan of her father’s fairy tales, the one who had snatched a single feather from the tail of the Firebird and who had, in his quest to find the rest of the creature, had made friends with a large, magical wolf.  The wolf had helped Ivan wiggle out of all consequences—including death—and get everything he’d ever wanted.  It was the Firebird who had cursed Eovan and the wolf to become the Beast, one creature with two natures, and so it’s the Firebird that Yeva must kill to break the curse.

The Firebird has been Yeva’s most beloved creature from all her father’s stories, but for Prince Eovan, she sets out to find and kill the bird.  She manages to travel as far north as she can go, passing several tests along the way, and eventually finds the Firebird in a cave.  Seeing the Firebird, the thing she’s wanted to find her entire life, Yeva almost forgets her mission, but at the last moment, she realizes that the Firebird is now everything she’s always wanted because it’s what will save her Beast.  Yeva nocks an arrow and sends it flying straight at the Firebird’s chest.

And the Firebird simply disappears, leaving Yeva trapped in the cave.  She manages to start a fire using her bow and her book of fairy tales, but there’s no way out, and Yeva, unbowed up to this point, is just about to give up hope when the Beast arrives.  He breaks through the ice wall trapping Yeva, and Yeva is elated…until she realizes that the Beast’s human side is gone, leaving her to face a large, angry wolf ready to pounce.  All Yeva can think to do is pull out the Firebird feather, and that stops the Beast long enough for Yeva to begin a story.  Yeva tells the Beast his story, hoping to remind him of who he truly is, but she manages instead to realize that Eovan’s true curse was always longing, always wanting more.

And then Yeva realizes that she’s just like Eovan.  She was never truly happy just being at home with her family and friends, she wasn’t happy getting to hunt every day, she wasn’t happy with the things and people she already had.  Like Eovan, Yeva wanted the Firebird more than anything, but unlike Eovan, she wasn’t cursed to be a beast until the Firebird returned.

The story is enough to bring the Beast back to his human side, but it’s not enough to break the curse. Yeva couldn’t kill the Firebird, and she’s heartbroken that she failed the man with whom she’s fallen in love.  But that’s when they both discover the true nature of the curse—that Eovan was cursed to be a Beast until what he wanted most in the entire world came back to him.  For so long, that had been the Firebird, but once he met Yeva, she became his true desire, and her return breaks the curse.  I love this twist, both because of the fairy tale love and because it’s so realistic.  Who hasn’t experienced that feeling of wanting more—more adventure, more happiness, more life?  And so many people have felt that longing for something only to realize that what they’d truly been longing for has shifted, usually to something right in front of them, something they’ve had all along.  The Beast’s curse belongs to all of us, we’re just punished in different ways for it.

But even centuries-long curses can’t stand up to true love, and Yeva and Eovan find all they want is one another.  I can’t tell you how much I love the open-endedness and sheer happiness of the epilogue.  I love that Yeva and Eovan leave themselves free to follow their hearts and their longings, never tied to one place for too long, but always together.  It’s the perfect plan—or lack thereof—for two people who have never been satisfied with anything or anyone except each other, and it’s full of countless possibilities for them to do as they wish. No matter what they choose, they’ll find magic and love in one another, Beauty and the Beast together at last.

Hunted is a magical retelling of Beauty and the Beast that manages to stand out from the rest.  Yeva is a strong and compelling heroine, the paradox of the Beast is wonderfully portrayed, and the true nature of the curse is one we can all relate to.  The inclusion of Russian folklore in the world-building and the plot provides a unique twist and another layer of enchantment to the story.  Anyone who’s fallen in love—or back in love—with this classic fairy tale because of the new Disney adaptation will love the blend of the familiar and the unexpected in this new take on the story, and everyone will love Yeva as a fierce, capable heroine hoping to find a bit of magic in her world.  So get out there and pick up Hunted—just make sure there’s nothing big and hairy lurking behind you as you go.


Stray Thoughts & Observations:

  • I absolutely love this cover.  I love the green standing out against the snow, and that tagline is everything.
  • I felt so bad for Yeva’s father.  He was just trying to give his girls the world, and instead lost everything.
  • I liked the Beast’s chapters.  They’re quick, but they provide a good look into the Beast’s thoughts and how they change as he interacts with Beauty.
  • I’m so glad that Radak didn’t turn out to be a jerk and that he loved Lena enough to want to marry her despite her being poor.
  • Yeva’s journey to find the Firebird was very myth-like storytelling.  It was a bit abstract but still managed to hit all the high points and got Yeva to her goal in a timely fashion.
  • She’s his Firebird! It’s so cheesy, but so perfect.

Favorite Quotes:

  • She moves like an animal in a woman’s body.  She moves like beauty.
  • The lust was rising in her, the wild hiss of revenge bubbling up to replace the hunter’s cold reason.
  • Her father had always told her that no matter the predicament, a hunter should never lie to himself.  Only by understanding the problem can one see past it.
  • In every fairy tale there were rules.  Even the monsters could not break
    them.  And where, except in fairy tales, did there exist talking bears? 
  • But wishing is for men.  Wanting is what brought us here.  Desire and greed are
    human traits.  We are the Beast.  And yet…I wish.
  • Spring had not come to the wood, but it was coming to the Beast’s heart.  And at the same time, she hardened her own.
  • And as if by the same magic that had transformed the Beast, she became nothing more than a little girl who’d lost her father.
  • …It was the want that screamed to the sky that she’d give everything, all of herself and all she’d ever be, to live one moment of that other life, the one she could not explain, not even to herself.
  • “But you can be happy about a thing and sad about it at the same time.  Feeling one thing in your heart doesn’t stop you from feeling another.”
  • “He never hurt me.  Well, he did once, but to be fair, I had shot him with an arrow and was about to kill him with an axe.”
  • But if her experience with the Firebird had taught her anything, it was that even here, at the edge of the world, life wasn’t a story.
  • The prince’s curse wasn’t arrogance or cruelty, as it was so often in fairy tales.  His curse was wanting, always wanting.  And so was Yeva’s.
  • In a rush, she blurted, “I would give up a thousand happy endings, just to go back with you to your valley and live as we did.  I’d give up every fairy tale I’ve ever known just to hear you say my name again.”
  • My longing for something else, beyond, into magic and dreams and the things everyone seemed to leave behind as children.  For something I knew I could
    never find.  It’s the waiting that brought me here, to her.  To another soul as empty as mine, and yet not empty at all, because it’s so full of everything I thought only I ever felt.  Her soul against mine feels like music, like heartbeat, like magic.  Like beauty.
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