Reviewed October 16, 2009.
HarperTeen (HarperCollins, 2009. 402 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #1 Fantasy Teen Fiction
In Rampant we learn that, contrary to popular current sentimental beliefs, unicorns are not cuddly, cute, sparkly and sweet. No, Astrid's mother, whom everyone including Astrid believes is crazy, has taught her since she was small that unicorns are truly vicious, man-eating brutes that are almost impossible to kill. Fortunately, their own relation killed the last unicorn centuries ago.
Astrid is making out with her boyfriend behind the house where she's babysitting when she learns that everything her mother told her is true, except for the important part about unicorns being extinct. A unicorn comes out of the woods and viciously attacks her boyfriend. Astrid sees that he is clearly dying, but fortunately her mother comes with their ancestral gift, a last bit of the Remedy, and he is cured. But he's convinced Astrid and her mother drugged him and doesn't buy her rabid goat story for a moment. Her social life is over.
Fortunately, her mother gives her a chance to get far away. Unfortunately, it's to take her place as an heir to the powerful tradition of unicorn hunting. It seems vicious unicorns are reemerging all over the world, and a group has opened an ancient cloister in Rome to train the hunters.
I want to say that this book stands the traditional view of unicorns on its head, but it actually fits quite well with many of the older unicorn stories. One tradition she definitely keeps is that unicorns are attracted to virgins, well, at least virgins who are descended from Alexander the Great, in the traditional unicorn-hunting families, like Astrid. Such virgins are immune to the poison of alicorns and have a mystical power to fight unicorns. But what can a handful of untrained girls do against such powerful beasts?
With the importance of virginity to unicorn fighters, sex and whether or not to have it is definitely an issue in this book. I think it's handled tastefully and realistically, but keep in mind that it deals with these issues head on, and so is not a book for very young unicorn lovers.
My only quibble is the same one I have with some of Stephenie Meyer's scenes: Where do they find these young men who are able to go so very far and yet not go all the way? Do they really want young women to think that's realistic? All the same, I think Diana Peterfreund does point out that you can't take that for granted.
Anyway, sexual issues are by no means the main point of the book. This is an incredibly absorbing story (It ate a chunk out of my day off!) about a girl learning who she is and how to be a warrior. Astrid is definitely a heroine to cheer for.