Rampant, by Diana Peterfreund

The idea of carnivorous unicorns ranks pretty high on both the kitsch-o-meter and parody scale, but Diana Peterfreund's novel Rampant is neither. Instead, this surprising young adult book is a top-notch horror story, exploring the darker side of a mythological beast obsessed with female virginity.

Rampant introduces readers to Astrid Llewelyn, a Pacific Northwest teenager whose mother has always insisted that unicorns are real—and horrible. Astrid, who dreams of becoming a doctor, has done her best to ignore her mother's embarrassing rants about unicorns as vicious, bloodthirsty monsters, but when a mysterious creature skewers her boyfriend she's forced to reconsider. Immediately after the attack, Astrid's mother ships her off to Rome, insisting that Astrid join a group of young women (the virginal female descendants of Alexander the Great) training to become unicorn hunters.

As most of Rampant consists of a thoughtful, bleakly humorous exploration of Astrid's extremely mixed feelings about becoming a unicorn hunter ("Forgive me if enforced lifelong celibacy and possible death by dismemberment and poisoning don't exactly get me excited."), the novel's final scenes come as a considerable disappointment. Rampant ends with a gory battle sequence, which—no matter how well-written—felt like an unworthy conclusion for such an original take on the horror genre. Trust us: all the sword fights in the world can't compare to the spine-chilling scene halfway through the novel wherein the unicorn hunters' cuddly, loving “house” unicorn viciously turns on a girl who has just been raped.

However, our disappointment over the ending chapters of Rampant should be taken as a reflection of how incredibly impressed we were by the rest of the book. Peterfreund handles hot-button topics like the link between female sexuality and power with intelligence and frankness, even as she keeps her underlying storyline rolling along at a breakneck pace. Here's hoping she chooses to turn her novel into a series, thereby erasing the memory of its sub-par conclusion and giving us an opportunity to spend more time in this darkly inventive universe.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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