Hunted, by Meagan Spooner, is an interesting combination of Beauty & the Beast and Russian folklore. While it did throw me for a loop a couple times, I’m glad I stuck with it because it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable read.
That first loop actually came on the very first page. See, in Hunted, every chapter is preceded by an interlude from the Beast’s POV. It says so, right at the top of the page.
“Okay, cool,” I thought. “Who wouldn’t want to see Beauty & the Beast from the Beast’s POV?”
Then I got to the royal we. I do not support the use of the royal we, or majestic plural, or whatever you want to call it, unless you are portraying a British monarch (or other monarchs, I guess, but I’ve recently heard it in both The Crown & Victoria), and even then it’s a little weird. If you are one person, you should say “I”. It just makes good grammar.
I wasn’t sure where the author was going with this “we” business at first. Were there others with the Beast in this version, like his servants-turned-household-appliances, that he was speaking for? Were there others like the Beast? Was he a British monarch? Or was this some sort of demon-like “We are Legion” kind of reference? WHAT AM I GETTING INTO?
So, yeah, a few sentences in and I was already a little distracted. But I kept going!
On page two, my worries were momentarily forgotten when I met the protagonist, Yeva, also called Beauty by her father and occasionally her sisters. Yeva is a hunter, trained by her father since childhood, stuck in the life of a lady now that she’s growing up. I was nervous about Yeva’s sisters at first because there are variations of this story (as well as the Eros & Psyche myth that inspires a lot of Beauty & the Beast retellings) where the beauty is made to doubt the beast by her jealous sisters, but I was relieved to see a fairly healthy family dynamic in play here.
In a quick turn of events, Yeva’s father’s business schemes fall apart and the family is forced to sell everything and move to his old hunting cabin far from town, and he starts to develop an unhealthy obsession with tracking down a “beast” that’s scaring all the animals away from him. No messing around, straight to the plot. Yay!
Then Solmir, the assumed heir to the local baron, proceeds to follow Yeva’s family into the woods & propose to her, despite their measly financial standing. Solmir is actually a pretty nice guy and not a terrible match for Yeva. He likes hunting and seems to appreciate, rather than scorn, Yeva’s enthusiasm for it. Unfortunately, she’s just not that into him (but her sister definitely is). He’s not the Gaston-type I was preparing myself for, which was kind of refreshing, but also made me feel bad for him. Yeva puts him in charge of taking care of sisters and goes off to find their father, who’s been missing for a while now.
Now, not to spoil anything, but this is where the second red flag in Hunted occurs and it’s kind of a big one. Let me just say that a very bad thing happens, which makes me question how in the world I’m supposed to be okay with this Beauty & Beast pairing, let alone root for it.
So, after the very bad spoilery thing, Yeva is imprisoned by the Beast. She is provided with a little food and medicine by an unnamed voice so long as she puts out the light before he enters and wears a blindfold when he takes her to a nicer room after she gets really sick, in a way that is definitely reminiscent of the Eros & Psyche legend.
This is where the next red flag comes into play, which made me really nervous about where the story was going. I know everybody jokes (or is totally serious) about Stockholm Syndrome in Beauty & the Beast, so while I wasn’t unsurprised to see it get a nod here, I wasn’t expecting such an overt example. Yeva instantly rationalizes that her unseen provider must be a fellow captive being kind, as opposed to the obvious answer of her captor keeping her alive. It is a survival instinct, I suppose, so I went along with it at first. But then, all of a sudden, she’s very much into her “ally” and I’m feeling very uncomfortable because I know how much she’s going to regret these feelings.
But then she takes off her blindfold, sees the Beast and all her Stockholm feelings fly back to Sweden where they came from, and he gets really mad she broke her promise. I felt better, though.
Now that they can’t pretend to be friends anymore, Beast gets down to business training Yeva to be the hunter he needs to break his curse and things unfold a little more naturally.
From that point forward, my red flags were gradually addressed, making me glad I stuck with the book.
- The Beast interludes start mixing “I” with the royal we, making it clear that this grammatical oddity is linked to his curse and the mental strain it places on him, so I can live with it.
- The very bad thing is dealt with, but I’m not going to tell you how because major spoilers.
- Yeva, despite coming to understand the Beast better, does not get Stockholm Syndrome again. She holds on to her anger toward him and continues devising ways to kill him & escape until the very bad thing is addressed.
I liked how the author tied in the Russian folktale of Prince Ivan and the Firebird, not only because it’s something different, but also because the way she uses it goes a long way toward answering those lingering Stockholm Syndrome doubts people have about Beauty & the Beast. It’s not so much about dependency and isolation drawing these characters together, but instead a recognition of a kindred spirit, and seeing oneself (good and bad) in someone else.
So, while it wasn’t love at first chapter, this book was definitely worth seeing through. Not only is it a different take on a story I love, but I think Meagan Spooner brings out an often overlooked dimension of the “Beauty” character in this tale as old as time, whether she’s called Yeva or Belle or something else. She’s not just the pretty girl or the misunderstood girl. She’s the girl who wants. Not anything in particular. Just more, or different.
It’s the quality that probably makes people identify with this type of character so much, whether they realize it or not, and Spooner explores what makes the trait simultaneously wonderful, heartbreaking, and potentially harmful in a very satisfying way.
All in all, I give Hunted three out of five stars for an enjoyable read that kept me on my toes.