Monday, March 28, 2016

Audiobook Review: The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins

Title: The Great Hunt (Eurona Duology #1)
Author: Wendy Higgins
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
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“Aerity…” Her father paused as if the words he was forming pained him. “I must ask you to sacrifice the promise of love for the sake of our kingdom.”

She could only stare back, frozen.

When a strange beast terrorizes the kingdom of Lochlanach, fear stirs revolt. In an act of desperation, a proclamation is sent to all of Eurona—kill the creature and win the ultimate prize: the daughter of King Lochson’s hand in marriage.

Princess Aerity knows her duty to the kingdom but cannot bear the idea of marrying a stranger…until a brooding local hunter, Paxton Seabolt, catches her attention. There’s no denying the unspoken lure between them…or his mysterious resentment.

Paxton is not the marrying type. Nor does he care much for spoiled royals and their arcane laws. He’s determined to keep his focus on the task at hand—ridding the kingdom of the beast—but the princess continues to surprise him, and the perilous secrets he’s buried begin to surface.

Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ tale “The Singing Bone,” New York Times bestselling author Wendy Higgins delivers a dark fantasy filled with rugged hunters, romantic tension, and a princess willing to risk all to save her kingdom.

A couple months ago, in the middle of a pretty intense fantasy binge, I added The Great Hunt to my must-read list for 2016. Not only was the cover gorgeous, but the synopsis was intriguing, and it was even a retelling, albeit of a story I'd never heard of. All that to say, I was really excited to read this book! I was really surprised to see that it was available without a wait through my library as an audiobook, so I immediately snatched it up and started listening.

Aerity is the "heroine" who "risk all to save her kingdom." I expected a lot out of Aerity, but was actually more confused by her than anything. First of all I have to ask the most pressing question: what color is Aerity's hair?? The cover model looks exactly like Merida, blue dress, red mane, and all. In the book, however, she is described as having blonde hair, which is apparently a big deal because all of her siblings have red hair. Later on, though, her hair is described as red. Just... what?? Does the author have no idea what her character looks like? Maybe this is a petty complaint. It seems like such an obvious thing not to mix up, but I digress.

I really didn't connect with Aerity at all. She is a princess and she acts like a princess. Her talent is aerial fabric acrobatics, no joke. She "gives all" by agreeing to an arranged marriage with whoever kills the beast who is terrorizing the kingdom. I get that it might suck, but the synopsis make her involvement sound much more noble and dramatic than it actually is. She really doesn't do much in the entire book other than flip around in the air, talk to hunters, and hang out with her cousin...

Thankfully, there's no love interest in this story. Unfortunately, the romance itself isn't impressive. In fact, Aerity and Paxton speak maybe ten sentences to each other before they're in love, and most of them involve Paxton being kind of a jerk. Still, he's a better character than Aerity. Paxton has something of a tragic backstory and is unconditionally loyal to his younger brother. He's also a skilled hunter. Even though he does have a decent excuse for being rude to Aerity, it still bothers me when male love interests act this way and women swoon all over them.

The story here is honestly the saving grace of The Great Hunt. The beast itself, while not actually very terrifying (especially once it's actually revealed) still creates enough tension to make everything seem a little bit urgent. There's always the mystery of where the beast came from and why to keep the reader guessing. The other unique element is the magic. There are those in Eurona who have magical healing (or killing) powers called the lashed. They aren't allowed to use their magic and, if they do, there's an obvious sign that allows them to be found out. I thought they were interesting, although I wish there had been more background information given.

The Great Hunt honestly comes off as an adult historical romance novel masquerading as a YA fantasy. Literally the first scene of the book is two teens getting very close to down and dirty on a boat dock. I feel like the author really wanted to write a more explicit book, but tamed it a bit and threw in some magic to market it to a younger crowd. Although it was an okay book, it wasn't anything like what I expected. This is a duology and I honestly probably won't read the next one since this book actually wrapped up pretty well. If you're into fantasy that's overpowered by romance or you want to break into Harlequin romance gently, this is the book for you!