Published by HarperTeen on March 14th 2017
Hunted by Meagan Spooner is an absolutely gorgeous retelling of Beauty and the Beast that borrows from the Russian folklore of Ivan and the Firebird and in doing so manages to bring something unique to the tale whilst still remaining faithful enough to be the beautiful tale that I love. I have to confess upfront that I’m a bit of a pushover for fairytale retellings but that doesn’t mean they always win me over and for a book that has received quite as much hype as this particular one I couldn’t help feeling a little bit wary. In this case there was no need to fear. This is literally the retelling of Beauty and the Beast that I’ve been waiting for, the writing is evocative, the setting moves from cold and austere to gothic and dilapidated. The characters are fascinating and the key to the puzzle of the Beast keeps you compelled to the end.
At the start of the story Yeva, her sisters and father, live a prosperous life on the edge of town. Yeva is a lady in waiting, all day she sits listening to idle gossip and trying to conjure up ways to escape the confines of polite society. Basically, the restraints of mingling with the aristocracy are not for Yeva, she remembers the times as a youngster spent with her father hunting in the wilds and wants to run barefoot and corset-less through the woods once more. However, for three young maidens in search of husbands reputation is a valuable commodity that can’t be squandered and so Yeva maintains her courteous demeanour, unexpectedly drawing the eye of a young man in the process.
No sooner have we made Yeva’s acquaintance and tasted her unrest than disaster strikes, the family lose all their wealth and are forced to seek refuge in their cottage in the forest. From hereon things take a dark turn. The cottage is barely liveable and in order to survive their father most delve deeper and deeper into the forest to try and catch food for the winter months. At this point things look bleak, Yeva herself takes to hunting as their father spends longer and longer out in the wild. When he finally does return he’s clearly unhinged, he talks of a beast that stalked him relentlessly and after a brief spell to take sustenance he once again rushes out. Eventually, when he fails to return Yeva is forced to go in search. Of course we, the reader, know that there is something in the wild, something clever and fleet footed, that has indeed been stalking Yeva’s father. It now remains to be seen if Yeva can find the beast and survive to tell the tale.
Basically, and from the above you will no doubt be able to tell, this story is quite a faithful retelling of the original fairytale in many respects. I suppose it varies in that the sisters all care deeply for each other, their father doesn’t incur the wrath of the beast by stealing a prize rose and Beauty doesn’t voluntarily submit to spending time with him. The relationship here is strongly built on fear, hatred and need. The Beast needs Beauty, although we’re not quite sure why, and Beauty hates the Beast and fears what action he will take against her sisters if she fails to comply with his wishes.
In terms of the characters – well obviously Yeva and the Beast steal the show but I loved reading their chapters. Yes, the beast has alternating chapters and it’s really wonderful to read his thoughts as they become a little bit more coherent. He’s spent a long time alone, in the form of a beast, and cares little for a human’s needs but gradually, as he listens to Yeva’s stories the beast within him retreats and his more human side begins to once again play a larger role.
The settings are really well drawn going from the enchanted forest that seems to perpetually remain in the throes of winter to the Beast’s castle, now little more than a ruin with cold, damp rooms populated with rotting furniture. Very little has survived the years of neglect. I loved the settings, they both held a little bit of menace that added to the dark fairytale feel.
Now, there’s only so much I can realistically tell you about this without completely giving everything away. The motivations here are what the story is really about and the folktale of Prince Ivan is the key in that respect.
Did I have any criticisms. No, I loved this. Realistically, I think this might be a slower paced story than some people would enjoy. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with that. The writing is just lovely and I enjoyed the slow burn to the story and the gradual development of feelings between Beauty and the Beast. No instalove here folks – so, if you like to read about instantaneous, love at first sight, whirlwind style romances then this might not be for you. This love story builds up very gradually.
I will definitely read more by this author and hope that she ventures into more retellings.