Hunted | Thoughts
This book was such a surprise. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale, and I've read countless retellings, many of which I've loved even though they followed every predictable path. I just love the tale, no matter the form.
Hunted did not follow the traditional mold, and the deeper I went into the forest the more I loved it. Yeva is our Beauty, a hunter like her father, and has everything she could want; love of family and a good prospective husband, friends, a nice home. But she is not happy, and she cannot pin down what it is inside her that is always wanting more. As a lady to a baronessa, she believes that if she could only return to the forest and be allowed to hunt as she wished, free beneath the trees with only the quiet of the wild instead of gossiping ladies, she will find what she is missing. When she is granted that wish, through unfortunate means, she is secretly delighted, but her family is suffering at the loss of their wealth.
So she believes that if only she could find a husband who could care for her and by extension her family, and also would delight in her hunting talents, be supportive of her need to be in the forest, to be unlike other ladies, then she could be happy. Her family would be comfortable again, and she would still be free. But when such a man is presented before her; she retreats further into the wild, shunning the idea of him and the confines of everything she thought she wished for. When her father disappears, she is consumed by a new desire; kill the beast in the wood that has caused his disappearance. That will surely bring her peace and allow her to be happy with her life.
So the hunt begins.
Our Beast is a blend of two natures, cursed to be both wolf and man, and when his own plans are foiled by Yeva's appearance in his wood, he alters course to use her instead of her father to help him be free. He will keep her as his captive by any means in order to force her hunt down the thing he wants most; the thing that will set him free.
This is not the traditional Beauty and the Beast, and the time the author dedicates to building the relationship between hunter and hunted is fabulous. This is no quick love story, where our Beauty sees the good in the Beast immediately. Yeva is driven by hatred and fury, and she will kill the Beast by any means. She is not swayed by simple niceties, by her slowly growing knowledge of his cursed state. He will die, she has promised it, because his death will bring her peace.
Blend in Slavic and Russian folklore, and the haunting magic of a medieval Russian forest, and we have a very, very different tale than the one I've loved for most my life. I'm hard pressed to say if there is another retelling that surpasses this one; it may easily be my new favorite.
The telling gets a little cloudy as the conclusion approaches, muddled with the hazy magic of the wood and deceptive nature of the magical beings Yeva has only just learned to see. The explanations are vague and wandering, almost as if the story itself was drunk on the magic of the spell. Personally, I was thrilled at the mystical nature of it all, and I believe the change from precise clarity to dream-like confusion was no accident on the author's part.
Lastly - for me the most surprising aspect of this story - is the idea that our Firebird, like Yeva's and the Beast's, will always be just out of reach, because it will always change. The end holds no allusion that Yeva's and the Beast's desires are happily reached forever - no, rather it is honest in their knowledge that they will always be in search of the Firebird, in whatever form it takes. The Firebird and what it represents is is exactly the type of philosophical exploration I adore, and that philosophy is what moves Hunted above the sea of other retellings, making it so much more. Well-developed, well-told, and well-written, this is a story that is magical in more ways than just the mystical beings and curses held within the pages.