My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is both a very unique and fairly faithful retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast fairytale. Hunted takes place in Russia and our main character Yeva (Beauty) is a huntress. She is headstrong, kind, caring, has a bit of a temper and can be vengeful – but overall I quite liked her character.
Like the classic tale, Beauty is the youngest of three sisters and daughter of a merchant. In some versions, she also has three brothers and her sisters are unkind – but that is not the case in this retelling. They live in a nice house until a shipping gamble costs them everything. They are forced to move to their father’s old hunting cabin, which is a three-day walk from their current home. Her father used to be a hunter, but his wife believed that it was too dangerous and asked him to stop. Despite that, as a child Beauty was allowed to go hunting with her father and learned to love it. Unfortunately, as she grew her father decided that it was not the way a lady should purport herself and no longer allowed her to hunt.
After the loss of their fortune, Yeva and her family must learn to make due with less. Her father takes up hunting again and goes off to catch game for them to store for the winter. Unfortunately, when he returns he is distraught and swears that the Beast he saw when he was younger is stalking him. When he doesn’t return from his second trip, Yeva sets out to find him and this is where the story adopts some significantly different elements from the original tale.
In the original, the father enters a castle and accepts his host’s hospitality, but upon leaving takes a single rose for his daughter Beauty and is told he has a choice. He shall either be condemned to death for it or he must stay in the castle. While these are not the events that lead to Yeva’s time in the castle, nevertheless she ends up imprisoned there. Over time, she and the Beast grow to know one another – but her treatment isn’t as kind overall as the original.
I really enjoyed the tales that Yeva told while she was in captivity because they built the lore of the world and gave us a look into what the characters had grown up listening to. Although Yeva spent most of her time as the castle, I do wish that we were able to get to know the other characters like her sisters a little better. They seem very kind, but relatively one-dimensional. As a result of the Beast’s curse, I don’t feel like we got to know him as well as we could have. I would have loved to watch him grow and connect with him as Yeva does so that I could feel that yes, they could fall in love. I liked Yeva, but her dog Doe-Eyes was probably my favourite character. The dog was so cheerful and loyal that you couldn’t help but love her.
The world that Yeva knows is not one we get to see very often in young adult literature. It is a melding of Russia, with its unique environment and folklore, with a more fantastical world. Yeva tells tales of the Firebird, sees a creature that is half dragon and half woman, and learns to listen to the music of that other world. The world itself reminds me a lot of the Grisha trilogy, although the plots and characters are nothing alike. I would love to experience more of the lore that built this enchanted world in the form of novellas.
I would highly recommend this to young adult/teen readers who enjoy fairytales and retellings, especially ones with a unique take on the tale that includes a lot of culture and lore.