The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins
HarperTeen: March 8, 2016
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Source: Free From Publisher
The Great Hunt is a romantic, historical fantasy, and as a romance, I thought this one was pretty good. However, there were several times I felt that suspension of disbelief was required and because I really couldn’t shut off the logical side of my brain, I had a hard time enjoying this one as much as it deserves.
There is a beast stalking the kingdom of Lochlanach. The commoners are being targeted and its only when the betrothed of the king’s niece is killed that the king finally decides to act. The king’s army can’t kill the beast, and the king is losing the support of his subjects. To gain the manpower to track and kill the beast, the king offers his eldest daughter, and heir to the throne as the prize. The hunter that successfully kills the beast wins Princess Aerity’s hand in marriage.
Entering the contest is Paxton Seabolt, a young man of nineteen that wants to kill the beast that is ravaging his people and avoid marriage to the presumably pampered princess. Alongside his brother and the other contestants, Paxton hunts for the beast only to discover that this is no natural beast; there is something otherworldly about it, something that will have huge repercussions for Lochlanach.
For me, The Great Hunt is a difficult book to review. On the one hand, as a romance, I thought it was pretty good. The tension between Aerity and Paxton was great and their chemistry was spot on. The obstacles in their path created a nice element of tension in their romance. The romance reader in me loved this. Unfortunately, there were several other elements that didn’t quite work for me.
First of all there’s the whole concept of offering Aerity as the prize to the hunter that kills the beast. From what readers are told, Aerity has a pretty decent family; they don’t want her to be forced into marriage and would prefer her to marry someone of her own choice. Okay, I get that. But, Aerity is also going to be the queen of a country some day, and you’re telling me that everyone is just cool with taking a chance that Aerity could marry any guy who then gets to be king. I just don’t buy this and it’s seems simplistic. There is a token effort to explore what the chosen winner will mean for Aerity but it doesn’t really do justice to the severity of the circumstances. What happens if the guy that wins is a tyrant and runs the kingdom into the ground? What happens if the winner is abusive to the kingdom’s future queen? If the king and his advisors don’t like the winner, do they really have to go through with it? They are the rulers after all, can’t they think of some other enticing price than handing over the keys to the kingdom? I’m over thinking it, aren’t I? The whole premise of the contest really requires the reader not to think about the consequences of the contest or really examine the motivations of the characters that orchestrate the contest in the first place. I could not shut off my brain.
My other difficulty with The Great Hunt was the Lashed. The Lashed are people that have magical gifts. Because of an uprising a hundred years ago anyone that is Lashed (and you can identify them because their fingernails change colour after using magic) is treated with suspicion and fear. Only a select few Lashed are treated as gifted and that’s only so others can take advantage of their powers. So there’s this whole concept of discrimination and I think that’s great. My problem is that I didn’t feel that the exploration of the Lashed and why they were persecuted was fully explored. Discrimination is a complex issue and it was rendered less so in The Great Hunt. I get that people were fearful of those that had magic; people fear what they don’t understand. But it seems that Aerity can magically turn this around because she’s not hampered by this prejudice herself. Why not? Was Aerity not raised in that same discriminating environment as everyone else? What makes Aerity this paragon of goodness? I would have liked a little bit more exploration of why Aerity decides to champion the Lashed other than the obvious.
If you can get past the fact that some rather complicated issues are simplified there is a lot of other stuff to like in The Great Hunt. I love author’s use of multiple perspectives in the narrative and Higgins does this really well including characters other than Aerity and Paxton. Yes, these two are the main characters, but by including others, the author has really given the relationship between these Paxton and Aerity as well as their relationships with others a surprising depth. The character driven drama was done really, really well and I think the author’s style of narration contributed a lot to this.
Ultimately, The Great Hunt is a romance. Yes, there’s a hunt for a mysterious beast and a fight against senseless prejudice. But to my mind, these “issues” were window dressing to the romance happening between Paxton and Aerity. The romance was sweet and swooney and I think that The Great Hunt will appeal to fans of romantic fantasy more than anything else. For the more complicated issues in The Great Hunt, prepare to suspend belief and enjoy the novel for what it is: a fairy tale retelling with a bit of The Bachelor vibe.
As soon as I started The Great Hunt, I was immediately put in mind of Michelle Diener’s The Golden Apple, another fantasy read that tackles a similar fairy tale. Like Aerity, Kayla has been made prize in a tournament; however, the romance is a little more cut-and-dry from the start. See my full review to learn more.
Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles are another good follow-up. Meyer’s series tackles well known fairy tales and gives them a sci-fi spin. Fans of the romance in The Great Hunt will be drawn to this series. Start with book one, Cinder.
For those that were intrigued by the concept of discrimination based on magical ability, you might enjoy Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter. I had definite issues with this book, but I think fans of Paxton will enjoy the character of Elizabeth (the witch hunter).