Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Book: Rampant
Author: Diana Peterfreund
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: August 25, 2009
Source: Ebook borrowed from library
Series: Killer Unicorns #1
Summary: (from Goodreads) Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns… Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. Fortunately, they’ve been extinct for a hundred and fifty years. Or not. Astrid had always scoffed at her eccentric mother’s stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriendâ??thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to the promâ??Astrid finds herself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries. However, at the cloisters all is not what it seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from the crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters toâ??perhaps most dangerously of allâ??her growing attraction to a handsome art student … an attraction that could jeopardize everything.

First impressions: From page one, I knew I was going to like this book. Astrid is reading a gag-inducing unicorn tale to her babysitting charges, and introduces us to her feelings on the subject. She’s snarky, irreverent, and convinced that her possibly crazy mother has warped her with tales of man-eating unicorns while growing up. I. Love. Astrid.

Lasting impressions: Diana Peterfreund has managed to blend the most ridiculous fantasy element of all time – unicorns – with the most realistic portrayal of a teen I’ve ever read. Sheer genius.

Conflicting impressions: Virgins! Again with the virgins! Puh-lease. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Overall impressions: One of my favorite scenes in all of comedic film is in the movie Dodgeball, when Vince Vaughn’s character goes to Christine Taylor’s character’s house for the first time and discovers her eerie obsession with unicorns. Do you know why that scene is so damn funny? Because no self-respecting grown woman would surround herself with that much lavender, sparkles, and horned white horses. It would be like carrying a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper into a business meeting.

Astrid would find that scene funny. She practically chokes on the words while reciting that same kind of fluffy unicorn tale to the kids she’s babysitting. You see, in Astrid’s mother’s world, unicorns are fearsome fanged beasts that survive on the flesh of mammals. Astrid, of course, thinks her mother is a whack-job. While everyone else grew up thinking unicorns were majestic, beautiful creatures, she wound up with the mom whose unicorn stories were completely terrifying.

I loved Astrid’s healthy skepticism. It made the story more believable, and allowed her to make all of the snide, disparaging remarks we readers are wont to do when confronted with reading material about unicorns. When I gleefully showed off the cover and first page to my husband, I think he actually considered divorce.

Once I settled into the narrative, things moved right along. Astrid almost immediately encounters a breed of unicorn called a zhi, which not only doesn’t attack her, but bows. Like, might as well wear a skirt and curtsy, bows down to her. Right before lunging its fanged mouth at her boyfriend and roughing him up pretty good. After this near-death experience, Astrid’s boy toy ostracizes her and her mother sends her to Rome for unicorn huntress camp.

I know. Stay with me.

Because Astrid has managed to stay a virgin (sigh), and because she comes from a long line of fancy pants unicorn huntresses, she dutifully goes off to Rome. She figures she’ll spend her time learning Italian and seeing the sights. When she arrives, she’s in for a rude awakening. Her roommate is an even more emphatic huntress than her mother, excitedly blabbing about killing and training and displays an act of Pure Crazy so shocking I almost stopped reading. I’m glad I didn’t.

This book is not lacking in the blood-and-guts department. It’s a book about hunters. They hunt and kill. It’s what they do. So there should be no surprises on the violence front. Perhaps the thing I struggled with the most, however, was how easily Astrid came to accept this part of her duty. Natural instinct kicks in when she gets around unicorns, and I get that killing a beast that’s trying to kill you is easier than killing an innocent puppy. But although she experiences remorse after her first kill, she did seem overly accepting of her killer instince and the training aspects of her time in Rome. I was surprised at how quickly she just jumped on in, especially given her prior skepticism.

Don’t get me wrong. Astrid struggles with this decision. She doesn’t want to commit her entire life to remaining a virgin and hunting unicorns. The difference is that while I bought her struggle over the decision to commit to a life of hunting, I didn’t buy her lack of real rebellion at going to unicorn camp in the first place and killing lots of animals once she got there, despite her life being endangered several times. I wanted her to be a bit more rebellious, other than sneaking out to make out with cute boys.

Which brings me to Giovanni. He’s an American student studying in Rome, who along with his friend, starts double dating Astrid and her cousin, Philippa aka Phil. Giovanni represents all that she can’t have if she hunts – love, sex, companionship. She flirts with using him to take her virginity so she can avoid hunting, and also agonizes over accepting her destiny while still truly loving him.

The boys manage to complicate things in meaningful, and also hurtful, ways. It’s in the exploration of these relationships that Peterfreund shines. Astrid is a teenager – nervous around boys, overanalyzing their every move, questioning the path to physical intimacy. She is insecure about reading the right signals or how to communicate what she wants. I absolutely loved the time she spent with Giovanni, and her internal thoughts just made me want to hug her and tell her that when she grows up she’ll look back on this with a smile. Of course, what dogs Astrid is that she might not grow up with that kind of knowledge. It’s very bittersweet.

The action ebbs and flows, and at times I found the narrative a bit confusing and wandering for me, but I still give it a solid four stars. I liked the exploration of teen sexuality (minus the emphasis on virginity) and the mythology built around the unicorns. There were lots of surprises throughout the pages that made for an exciting read, and I recommend this one to those who like their fantasy with just a hint of mocking.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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12 thoughts on “Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

  1. LOVE snark. But I feel like I would end up cheering for Astrid to choose not staying a virgin (when she was old enough for it since this is a YA book, ha ha).

  2. LOVE snark. But I feel like I would end up cheering for Astrid to choose not staying a virgin (when she was old enough for it since this is a YA book, ha ha).

  3. I've been really curious about this one since it focuses on unicorns and, really, the thought of a unicorn story makes me feel like I would be way too old to read it. Clearly I'm very, very wrong! I love a snarky heroine, so I think Astrid and I will get along well. Really amazing review Logan!

  4. I have been wanting to read this one for like… ever (okay, not that long, but I think you understand… lol). I think the virginal thing makes sense in a book like this since it doesn't seem preachy, but more with the mythology of unicorns who are only attracted to virgins (purity). However, if you haven't read it… try Brush of Darkness by Alison Pang. You will LOVE the unicorn there. Of course it isn't YA, but it might make a good opposite from what bugged you in this book. lol

  5. @Amanda – That's what I did! She meets this perfect guy and I can't help but want her to be with him.@Jenny – You would LOVE this one! I hope you get a chance to read it.@Melissa – Thanks for the rec! I do get that the virgin thing ties in to the story and it created conflict blah blah blah. It's just that I keep reading books lately with a focus on staying a virgin in order to save the world and I'm a little sick of it. I'm such a whiner.

  6. I think you'll like the sequel even more. A lot of the things you wanted Astrid to do she does there. But beware huge horrible awful cliffhanger and no idea when and if the final book will be published!Me, I liked that she went full bore into slaying those evil beasts! I just chalked it up to being like Buffy. You know, where the slayer instinct just kicks in and it's what they're born to do. Or, at least that's what it seems like for Buffy. Why do I always feel like a big dork in these comments? (and I would SO walk into a business meeting with a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper–which I always wanted and never got–if I could get away with it. And, yes, I would also have a pink pen that wrote in pink sparkly ink and had a pink puffy tassel on top. And I would rock it.)

  7. Bwahaha! Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper! I've read lots of raving reviews on this one, but I just can't commit to reading it. I may just wait until the series is finished, especially if book two has a major cliffhanger. I have a question, though: How can Astrid come from a long line of fancy pants unicorn huntresses if unicorn huntresses are supposed to remain virgins? It doesn't sound like the whole thing is necessarily a lifetime commitment.

  8. OH now I've heard it all! Monster unicorns…wow. I've never heard of this book but thanks to your review, I'm definitely going to have to find a way to get my hands on this one.

  9. Unicorn Huntress Camp?! That sounds freaking AWESOME! :)haha! Dude, this is my first time hearing about this book, how is that possible?! It sounds great 🙂 Your review makes it sounds very good. Keep up the awesome reviews 'comin!ps. I LOVE that scene in Dodgeball. I was seriously laughing for 5 mins straight.

  10. @Smalls – I loved the world so much that I think I can forgive a cliffhanger just to spend more time with Astrid. Also, in my head you are now Elle from Legally Blonde. "It's pink!" "Mmmhmm. And it's also scented. I think that gives it a little something extra."@Ruby – You're right. It seems like eventually the virgin becomes not-so-virgin and has the babies or dies. But I think some of them just appear out of nowhere and it's not necessarily genetic. It just turns out that it is in Astrid's case.@Alexis – I'm so glad I could bring your attention to it! It was a fellow blogger *cough Small Review cough* that introduced me to this one, so glad to pass along the favor.@The Lovely Getaway – Yay! Glad I could spread the word. Smalls is where I learned of it. Also – I love Dodgeball. That movie is awesome.

  11. Love the concept so I'm glad you liked it. Astrid sounds awesome. I hope she gets the guy and gives up unicorn hunting, you know, eventually.

  12. *slaps self* How did I miss this review? And FYI, the most ridiculous fantasy element of all time is not unicorns… it's virgins. LOLI just won this book, and now I can't wait to read it. Bring on the snark. 🙂

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