As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Why do you ask? Two words: Killer. Unicorns. Not only did I think that sounded hilarious, but it sounded kind of awesome too. Add in girls who are chosen to hunt them, and a setting in Rome, and I thought I was in for a ride made of awesome.
I don't know if I just wasn't in the mood for this book or what, because truth be told, I didn't like it nearly as much as I wanted to. And believe me, I wanted to like this book.
Okay, first off, let's talk about the main protagonist Astrid. From the get go, I wasn't too fond of her. At the beginning of the novel, she's babysitting two little girls and after she puts them to bed, she goes off in the woods behind the house so that she can make out with her jerk of a boyfriend. Leaving kids in a house by themselves, even if you're not that far away, is super irresponsible and, I would argue, even a little selfish. For the rest of the book, Astrid is a very passive teenager, who let's herself be whisked away to Rome at her crazy mother's behest. Astrid does grow a bit as a character through the book, and while she hates her "destiny" to be a unicorn hunter at the beginning of the novel, she does grow into it and becomes much more determined by the end. I did appreciate this metamorphosis. However, I still never really connected with her. I was never really rooting for her, but I didn't *dislike* her either.
The supporting characters are all right I suppose. Out of all the hunters, the only two to get any development are Astrid's cousin Phil and co-founder of the new order Cory. Phil is a happy, bubbly young woman who is a go-getter (quite the opposite to passive Astrid) and her story arc has Something Big happen. Cory is a know-it-all and hates unicorns a lot because her mother was killed by them. Other than those two, none of the other girls really got any development, and as such, I forgot a lot who was who or who did what.
The other thing that kind of bothered me about this book are the unicorns themselves. This has more to do with my expectations of the book though: when I hear killer-unicorns, I can't help but think of the word CAMP. Seriously, that premise sounds so campy, and I'm okay with this, but I was kind of hoping that it had been dealt with as such. I just couldn't take the killer unicorns seriously, but Peterfreund writes like she wants you to. Again, this isn't really a problem inherent to the book, but rather with my expectations. I really wanted to just have fun with this, but I ended having to take it very seriously, which made me kind of disappointed.
The other things that bothered me about the unicorns was how they operated. I'm confused as to why these unicorns would be attracted by the hunters. What kind of survival instinct is that? They want to attack people that have super-human strength, speed and agility *only* when they're around said hunters? Not to mention that these hunters are immune to the poison on their alicorns (horns). I just don't get it. I'm also curious as to why they keep themselves so scarce from humans when they could kill humans very easily.
Another aspect of the novel that I wasn't completely sold on is the sex stuff. See, to be a unicorn hunter, you need to be a virgin. Otherwise, you don't get your natural super-human powers when you're around the unicorns; you're just a normal human who is doomed to be gutted by said unicorn. So of course, there's a lot of sex talk that goes on, and the girls talk earnestly about their virginity and the whys for it. Of course, I'm always happy when YA books address sex, and the fact that this book talks about abstinence without being preachy is obviously a good thing. However, there's one scene in particular where the girls are talking about sex and why they're still virgins and it just... didn't ring true for me. I don't know why, but the whole thing felt kind of forced or something. There's also the whole issue of Phil being raped about halfway through the book, which I *did* feel like was dealt well by Peterfreund. Phil was easily the most likable character, so watching her go through that, and watching her how she dealt with it (there was grief, but she didn't bemoan it constantly and it was rubbed in my face) was well done.
This brings me to the romance angle of the novel, which was also kind of lacking. Of course Astrid meets a hunky Italian dude who really likes her. And of course he eventually wants to sleep with her, but Astrid refuses because she can't deny her destiny of hunting unicorns (despite Astrid trying to sleep with him early on so that she could shed her unicorn hunting responsibilities). I don't know, I just never found myself rooting for them as a couple at any point.
My last quip with the novel is the pacing. For 400 pages, it does read rather quickly, but it still could've used some editing. It lags at times, though never horribly so. Thankfully, the ending was more explosive and made up for it a bit. I was disenchanted with the novel at this point though, so while I appreciated it, I still didn't especially care, which is too bad.
Final Verdict: I'm really bummed out that I didn't like this book more than I did. I didn't *hate* it by any means, but it was overall a very "meh" experience. However, this has more to do with my personal expectation for the book rather than the actual merit of the book itself. When I heard that the premise had something as campy and ridiculous as killer unicorns and virgin unicorn hunters, I was hoping for a bit more of a self-deprecating kind of novel, that reveled in the silliness of its premise. The main character was a little unlikable at first, though she grows into herself by the end, and the supporting characters were either forgettable, or kind of annoying (Phil being of the likable variety with Cory being kind of annoying and the rest of the girls being forgettable). The way that sex and virginity were addressed was good despite feeling a little forced (I found). It's got a good dose of action here and there throughout, which I liked enough and I'm sure other readers will enjoy. Overall, this novel was a lackluster experience for me, but I'm sure there's a lot to offer for other people (such as the premise, which I wish hadn't been dealt with so seriously, but I'm sure others will have no qualms about that.)