When I was a youngster and had nightmares about ghosts and vampires and needed to be soothed… I thought about unicorns and rainbows. Literally. Six-year old me would not like this book.

Title: Rampant

Author: Diana Peterfreund

Genre: Urban fantasy

Pages: 402

Days to read: One

Synopsis:

In general, Astrid doesn’t like unicorns. She doesn’t like the cuddly fluffy pink tailed sparkly horned ones that crap rainbows. And she doesn’t like the venom horned, man-eating ones with their gnashing fangs all too much either. Her Mother, however, insists that the latter version of unicorns existed at one point in history, and is more than thrilled when she hears that Astrid and her now ex-boyfriend were attacked by one while they were fooling around in the woods (so many reasons to be thrilled about this). Just when gossip involving her, her Mother, drugs and rabid goats starts to look like it might ruin Astrid’s life, her Mother decides it’s time for her to join a convent and claim her birthright as a Virginal Unicorn Killer. The only thing that makes the trip even remotely bearable is that the cloister happens to be in Rome – “Land of midnight cappuccinos in candlelit piazzas, of gorgeous young Italian guys swooping around on little Vespa motorbikes offering rides and fruity gelatos, of swank beach resorts and sprawling vineyards.” But when Astrid finally finds the little run-down corner of Rome where the Cloisters of Ctesias –  unicorn hunters central –  is hidden, she finds it hard to imagine her days there being anything remotely resembling Roman Holiday. Enter handsome art student dude, rule-breaking great-at-everything cousin and crazy vengeful roommate to cause a whole other set of other complications, too. Will Astrid be able to come to grips with her new destiny as a celibate unicorn slayer or will she find the quickest way out of the whole gong-show before it’s too late?

Impressions:

This one has wings!

I once had a debate with a friend about how a unicorn looks like. We agreed on certain things, like that they have a spiral horn sticking out of their forehead and they’re probably mostly some creamy white colour. But then, I said that they also have wings. She was quite adamant I was wrong. I admitted that maybe I muddled up Pegasus and unicorns somehow. She shook her head at me sadly and was quite firm that unicorns would not be called unicorns if they had wings. Then, knowing how much she enjoyed the Twilight series, I proceeded to argue with her about how vampires should not be called vampires if they sparkle…

Anyway, I have no problem with authors reinventing accepted myths and making them cooler (though I don’t know about sparkly vampires), but it’s funny how others get miffed. It’s not like by doing this they’re completely demolishing those fragile foundations upon which are built everything you believed about the world. No, you’ll be fine.

Rampant was a surprisingly fast and entertaining story. The beginning was a little too fast – what?? unicorns are real?? And they would eat me?? Even the cute ones that look like baby goats?? – but once you ease into the Rome bits it reads really smoothly. It was fun learning all the tidbits about how unicorns are really like, and how there are different species of unicorns with their own hierarchy. ‘Twas also great fun to read the unicorn-filled interpretation of the history surrounding Alexander the Great and Bucephalus and how all those women in the nunneries were secretly superheroines saving the world from rampant unicorns.

Let me tell you, though, Astrid’s mother is pretty scary. She’s like one of those crazy sideline parents who get really mad and break things and argue with the referees when their kid doesn’t perform well on the soccer field. She thinks Astrid should be the star unicorn slayer, the best of the crop, the one that takes the first kill simply because Astrid is a Llewellyn, descendent of legendary unicorn slayer Clothilde Llewellyn. When Astrid admits to her mother that relishing the kill is not something she’ll ever get used to and maybe she’s more of a healer-type, her mother just waves it off and pressures her to outshine her super cool athletic cousin, Phillipa (I’ve always loved that name!).

This book is a lot of fun to read, but at the same time, it’s pretty dark. People are constantly getting gored or trampled by various species of unicorn, or otherwise being chased by hungry ones (who appreciate well-muscled calves). The unicorns kind of remind me of zombies in that way…

Zombie Unicorn

…lots of mention of bloody vertebrae being delightfully devoured by adorable baby unicorns who like to gnaw their way out of their chain leashes to get loose in the city. One of the first experiences Astrid has of a unicorn and hunter face to face involved the hunter screaming at it and launching it across the building. That was quite a shocker. But it’s funny how nobody’s made unicorns as scary as they could be before (at least, I’ve never read anything featuring scary unicorns). They have those deadly sharp horns afterall…

Astrid herself is pretty interesting. She originally wants to be a doctor and, when she gets signed up for this crazy unicorn hunting training program, she still searches for ways she can contribute to the field of medicine. The big bad pharmaceutical guy (ahem, no spoilers here in my opinion, it’s obvious he’s up to no good if he’s in the pharmaceutical industry) wants to do vivisections on the unicorns to find out what about them makes them heal so fast from wounds. Astrid is all too ready to help out, though she does have her doubts about his method of doing research. He does other creepy things – watch your pets! Watch your children! Ruthless money grubbing scientists are everywhere!

Because this is a book about unicorns, there will be discussion about sex and celibacy. Astrid feels like she’s the only girl in her school that still hasn’t done it, and she toys with the idea of just doing it for the sake of saying she’s done it versus risking being ground up in the rumour mill while waiting for the right guy to come along. It’s all guys want, apparently, and if they can’t have it, they’ll be huge jerks about it. Her cousin Phil seems to balance flirting and batting them hands away from the jeans quite well, but Astrid’s not that kind of girl and struggles with some itty bitty self-esteem issues (the last guy she dated ended up with a funny scar and thoughts of how completely nuts she was). When the right guy finally seems to appear in her life, however, it’s already too late. You’ve got to be a virgin to kill a unicorn. That’s just the rules. So there is some angsty teenage love drama, and it does get pretty dark in that department.

Overall, you can’t deny you must be curious about rabid ravenous unicorns. It’s also probably a good idea to get the low-down on how to protect yourself against such creatures (if you’ve not got warrior blood, run like mad!!) in case they start to pop up in your neck of the woods. Also, despite the dire danger unicorns pose, I would sure love to have a cute little baby unicorn. This kind of reminds me of “How to train your dragon” and how adorable that dragon (and the movie) was.

Feed it juicy fresh wriggiling stuff and cuddle with it!

 Rating: 4 species of unicorns (zhi, kirrin, re’em and karkadann)

Excerpt:

I looked longingly at my bed, then back at her, and my protests died on my lips.

There was a unicorn curled up on Cornelia Bartoli’s bed.

How did it get there? The bed had been empty a second or two ago.

“Oh no, Cory. Stand still. Don’t. Move.” I pictured Brandt’s face after he was poisoned. My mom wasn’t around with her decanter and her can of Coke this time. We were both going to die, right here on the coral carpet.

Cory looked over her shoulder to see what caught my attention and proceeded to go completely berserk.

“Bonegrinder!” she shrieked in a voice I barely recognized as human. “No! Bad!” She picked up her desk chair and flung it wildly in the direction of the bed. IT glanced off the stone wall, bounced once near the headboard, and clattered to the floor.

The unicorn barely blinked. And then Cory went really nuts.

“You horrid little beast! You know you’re not allowed in the dorm!” Her voice was the shriek of a fire alarm, of an air raid siren, of a harpy. She didn’t even seem like the same person who’d showed me to our room. “Get off my bed! Get out! Get out! GET OUT!” She flew at it, fists raised.

The unicorn, its blue eyes as wide and limpid as any of the fictional creatures in children’s fantasy books, leaped straight into the air in a tangle of cloven hooves and spindly white legs and scrabbled toward the door. It didn’t make it.

Cory grabbed it by one leg and its horn and swept it up in her arms. It was bleating now, a pathetic, wheezing sound. In two steps, Cory had it out the door, then she swung it in a wide arc and flung it out over the courtyard.

It flew through the air, legs splayed, then plummeted two stories to the cobblestoned court. I watched in horror, unable to breathe, as it crashed into the ground with a sound of shattering bones and rending flesh that echoed and bounced along the walls and columns. And then, silence.

Cory stood at the gallery, shivering with rage, staring blindly at the spot where the beast had fallen. Then she turned to me, her face drained of all color except two magenta spots on her cheeks. Tears flowed freely from her eyes.

I was too shocked to cry. This was a hunter. This was what Lilith [my mother] wanted of me. This cruelty, this brutality.

I wanted to ask her what we should do. I wanted to ask her what the hell a unicorn was doing in the Cloisters of Ctesias. But I was afraid to speak. I was afraid to even close my mouth, which hung open, stupid and in shock. I’d never seen anything like that in my life.

And then it got worse, because I spotted movement below. The unicorn was rising, shaking itself off and staring up at us. There was blood smeared along its white coat, but when it moved, it didn’t look injured at all.

I gasped, but Cory didn’t turn around.

“Trust me,” she said. “It’s very hard to kill.”

Want to know more? Here is Diana Peterfreund’s website with more excerpts. Next book is Ascendent, which I am looking forward to reading!

Other Reviews:

-Angie from Angieville: “Rampant‘s strengths lie in its worldbuilding–the seamless way in which unicorn lore and legends come together to form the fabric of reality in Astrid’s world. They are horrifying creatures and, when Astrid encounters the more nightmarish ones, the aftereffects include vomiting and agony. I absolutely loved how heinous they were. Along with that, the history of the hunters is layered and complex and extremely well done. I occasionally find myself tiring during exposition that covers thousands of years, wanting to get back to the action of the main plot. Not so here. The stories and bloodlines and incarnations were so varied and interesting that all I wanted was more. ”

-Yan from Books by Their Cover: “Move over My Little Pony someone has come to take your place—Bonegrinder (lovely name isn’t it?). Killer unicorns has yet to ever cross my mind until this book popped up so kudos to Diana for creating an addictive, originally, enthralling, super awesome book. From page one to page I WANT MORE! I was captivated by the gruesome bloody battles, cute exchange students, and shiny claymores.”

-Kailana from The Written World: “I loved the killer unicorns! On the one hand they were the noble beasts from other fantasy novels, but on the other hand it was a totally different experience reading this book! I mean, it had killer unicorns! I hate to say it but I imagine the book has more chance of being known as that than its actual title, but that is the risk you take when you try to be different. It could have been terrible, but Peterfreund carried it out so well. It was just fun to read a book about killer unicorns, as crazy as that might sound!”

-Michelle from See Michelle Read: “After a bit, I felt like all Astrid did was: fight unicorns, wait around convent, talk about sex, fight unicorns, talk about sex, wait around convent, rinse, repeat. Perhaps the reason I was less than impressed with this cycle is simply because there were so many other interesting things that could have been discussed. She’s in ROME! And a really cute boy wants to spend time with her! And there are killer unicorns after her! Sheesh. I’ll get off my soapbox now and just hope that Ascendant offers more in the way of killer unicorn action and face time with cutie-boy Giovanni.”

-Enna Isilee from Squeaky Books: “The way Peterfeund writes Astrid’s transformation throughout the book is at times so heart-wrenching and beautiful that I actually felt tears spring to my eyes. I fell in love with Astrid in a way that I wouldn’t have thought possible after reading the first book. By the end I was SO SAD that it was over!”

-Thea and Ana from The Book Smugglers:

“Thea: I loved Rampant from beginning to end. The staggering amount of meticulous research and fantastic twist on the unicorn myth and the exploration of gender and virginity alone are enough to make this book one of the most memorable I’ve read this year. Add to that the solid, different characters, and Rampant is one irresistible book. Absolutely recommended, and easily one of my notable reads of 2009. I cannot wait for more from Astrid and the unicorns.

Ana: Rampant is a great book, with a gripping, interesting plot that never lets go. With a bunch of strong Girl Hunters and such sympathetic characters such as Astrid and Phil, this one is a winner. And can I just reiterate the fact that there is a pet unicorn called Bonegrinder? Bring on the next book.”

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4 thoughts on “When I was a youngster and had nightmares about ghosts and vampires and needed to be soothed… I thought about unicorns and rainbows. Literally. Six-year old me would not like this book.

  1. But, dude, did you actually have dreams about actual vampires? Cause I’ve always thought of vampires as one of those scary things that’s scary in the context of a vampire story (conceivably — obviously not if they sparkle), but your mind doesn’t necessarily produce it as a Nightmare Horror. I don’t think I ever had one single dream about a vampire until I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  2. Kailana – I’m interested in seeing what new twist Diana Peterfreund will give us in the next book since this one seems conclusive for a book!
    Skye – Yes, and also I like that Phillipa still found a place to fit in with the story and what the other girls were doing even after!
    Jenny – You know I never had those dreams where the vampires are sinuous lovely creatures who tempt you to open windows and such. No. I had dreams about really gross pale-faced crumbling death-mask creatures with fangs that just stood there in the corner of your room staring at you. I might have gotten that inspiration from X-files and definitely from Buffy!! VAMPIRES scared me so much that whenever someone mentioned the word I wound get instant goosebumps and have even been known to start screaming. Yup. So over that now. (I had the same fear of aliens…obviously I was not a very brave little child)

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