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Review | Hunted by Meagan Spooner

I'm just going to start off by saying I cannot stop thinking about this book. I finished it weeks ago, but this lovely Beauty and the Beast adaptation will not leave my mind. This is the first book I've really read by Meagan Spooner. I gave These Broken Stars a bit of a go awhile back, but we sort of drifted apart halfway through. Not the case here. The gorgeous cover caught my eye and the early glowing reviews reinforced my conviction. Having finished it, I immediately ran out and purchased copies for a number of the relevant readers in my life. And despite having pushed on and read several books since, Hunted is the one I find my mind and heart returning to over and over again.

Yeva holds a lot of things in. She loves her family—her father, her sisters—and so she sits obediently in the baronessa's chambers. She pretends to make small talk and embroider bits of cloth with the other ladies. She smiles politely at the young man who is said to be courting her (and doesn't think overly much about him when he is not there). She tries not to look too longingly out of the window and yearn for a time before her father made his money, before their lives changed and she was forced to come in out of the cold of the forest. And life is comfortable and quiet and perfectly fine. Until the loss of her father's fortune forces the family to return to the family's decrepit hunting lodge. When he subsequently disappears, Yeva knows he has gone after the legendary creature at the heart of the woods—the one no one has ever been able to find, let alone defeat. A talented hunter, trained at her father's feet, she sets out, determined to find find her father and save her family.
Yeva shivered. The thought of being left alone in the dark again was enough to make her eyes sting, but she had no reason to distrust her benefactor. He would not leave her a light only to take it from her again.

"Very well," she whispered, and turned the wick down, the light shrinking and quivering. Yeva almost didn't see it go out, afterimages dancing before her eyes and blinding her.

The door squealed open, the noise of rusty hinges shredding the quiet. Yeva clapped a hand over her ears, grimacing. Then came that tiny sound, a footfall. The person, whoever it was, was wearing the softest of shoes. Or else they were barefoot, like she was.

"Are you a captive too?" she asked the darkness.

The voice didn't answer right away. There came a quiet clatter as something was placed down on the tray of food. "Yes," said the voice then, the word emerging like a sigh.
Reader, I was a goner from the opening page. Hunted is told primarily from Yeva's point of view. But before each new chapter, we get a brief glimpse into the mind of the Beast. I started to simultaneously look forward to and dread each glimpse, knowing that the Beast's fractures could only grow more troubling with every passing day. The fragmented text and stark artwork on these handful of pages haunted me throughout the novel. But what a beautiful tale it is. Yeva is strong and determined and completely aware of the expectations regarding her future, as well as the ramifications her choices will have on the lives of her sisters and the people who have long worked for her family. She does not rush headlong into anything. But when the brunt of her family's protection falls on her shoulders, she does not hesitate to employ all of her hunting skills to strike out on her own in search of the author of her family's trauma and destroy it (or him). Vengeance is the watchword, and I absolutely believed she would follow through on her vow. But I also believed her grudging compassion, her innate desire for understanding, and the complicated choices she faces as an inhabitant of the Beast's castle. This story takes its time, and I savored every interaction, every conversation, between Yeva and the Beast. A favorite moment:
For an instant he was so like one of the crumbling gargoyles on the battlements of the castle that Yeva thought maybe just speaking of his secrets had turned him to stone.

But then he heaved a breath and dropped lower to the snow, crouching like a wounded animal, forelegs bent and breath stirring the top flakes with each puff. "You are clever," he mumbled.

"I know stories," Yeva corrected. "The bespelled can never speak of what afflicts them—that is always part of the curse."

The Beast's eyes flicked up. "You believe I am cursed?"

It was Yeva's turn to hesitate. Her mind still could not decide whether he was a man who had murdered her father or a beast who'd given in to animal instinct and torn him to pieces. And it still couldn't decide which would be worse. Either way he would have to answer for what he'd done.

"I know you aren't natural," she said finally. "And you can clearly hunt better than any human hunter could, so your need for me must mean you have a task you cannot complete on your own."

The Beast said nothing, didn't confirm her guesses. But neither did he deny them.

"And this existence is clearly . . . " Yeva paused, swallowing. "It is clearly miserable."

The Beast stayed silent.

"So, yes." Yeva took a deep breath. "Yes, I believe you are cursed."
Meagan Spooner's deft crafting of this fairy tale is exquisite. In fact, it is positively Robin McKinley-esque. And you know I do not use those words lightly. But truly, this Russian folklore-inspired adaptation of my beloved fairy tale is old school in the best sense of the term. It is the kind of deeply measured, quietly emotional, and palpably textured storytelling that I used to lose myself in as a girl. I want to fashion its very own nook on my nightstand so that I can reach it when the slightest need arises. To be clear, Hunted is unquestionably the highlight of my reading year thus far. You simply must read it.

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Linkage
My Friends are Fiction - "Hunted was exactly the type of retelling I’ve been wanting!"
SBTB - "Normally I donate most of the books I finish, but I kept Hunted because I loved it so much, and because I’m sure I’ll read it again."

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