In the interests of disclosure, Rampant is not a book that I would have normally picked up. The cover art would have never grabbed my eye (for this is a book I would have had picked up wandering the shelves, so cover art is important here) nor the cover blurb grabbed me. But this was a bit of a unusual case for me. I’d been in line at Dragon Con, waiting to get some autographs and I look over and there’s a few smaller tables set up with some authors sitting there. One guy has 95% of the people waiting and gets moved to another table by himself and then there were the two women sitting there, maybe getting 1-2 people every so often. I’d just finished the book I’d brought with me, and the women were selling copies of their books at the table so I figured why not check them out? This was described to me as being about “killer unicorns” by the author which amused me at the time, and for $10 I figured why not give a chance.
Yeah. Sad to say, there was probably a reason that table wasn’t getting many visitors.
First, the premise. It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Killer Unicorns. It’s not a bad premise. It’s execution though is just kind of there and there are some questionable choices. For example, powers only work when in direct proximity of the unicorn. So they have super speed if one is nearby but not if there aren’t any to be found. It’s just…odd. I think she was trying to be different, but it didn’t quite work for me. Moreover, I’m wondering if aiming it at the YA crowd was the right choice. While I don’t think you could have made a compelling “adult” tale out of this (unicorns just aren’t scary, no matter how dangerous you make them), I’m thinking tweens might have been a better fit. They might be more open to this premise than teens would be. But by the same token, there are several very frank (but never tawdry or graphic) discussions of sex and sexuality in the book. While they mostly work, those conversations firmly push the book out of being appropriate for that age group. This is definitely a book that’s more for the older end of the high school crowd who I don’t think will even bother picking it up. It’s just over all in an awkward spot.
Second, character development (the teens). For the most part, these are one note girls. One’s formerly homeless and takes pills. Ones a snob. One is the Hermione/Willow nerdy/know-it-all but without any of the redeeming qualities that helped soften that side of them. Astrid, our protagonist, has a bit of arc, but it’s actually kind of sad to see the change in her. Yes, she’s embracing her destiny, so to speak, but I can’t help but feel that she’s lost something in the process. It’s so rare to get books where the female characters are trying for things like science or medical careers, so to see that character get shot down when she tries and ultimately (and seemingly) abandon that desire to become a warrior it’s just disheartening. But while the girls are mostly one note, the adults in this series are AWFUL people. For sake of this discussion, I’m going to focus on Astrid’s mom, but rest assured, there really aren’t any adults here that you genuinely feel are people that should be watching over these kids.
Astrid’s mother. Oy vey. Over the course of the book she does the following:
- Send her 16 year old daughter (against her daughter’s wishes) to Italy to train to be a unicorn hunter with a man that she has never met on line (and in fact, she was talking to another 16 year old girl unknowingly)
- Continually berate her daughter for not wanting to do this, telling her to give up her dreams of being a doctor because that’s not what she’s meant to be.
- After her niece gets date raped by her boyfriend who was paid by a man who wanted her to no longer be able to hunt unicorns (and no, I’m not kidding, this is a legit plot point and Astrid, the main character, was also supposed to meet this fate. See what I mean about not being a tween appropriate book?) the mother reacts as follows:
- Happy that her daughter has less competition so that she will shine brighter compared to the other girls
- Says that date rape was her niece’s fault and that it would have never happened had she “stayed in her place” and done as she was told. Yes. She fucking slut-shamed her own flesh and blood and blamed a 19 year old girl for not wanting to be cooped up 24/7 let alone be forbidden to have any kind of romantic entanglement EVER. Right.
I swear, I disliked her mother from the get go, but when that happened, I wanted to deck her. I can’t even. The author has, intentionally or not, made the mother a fucking psychopath devoid of sympathy or human emotion. She only even begins to realize how fucked up this is after she has really good reason to believe that Astrid is dead at which point she tries to commit suicide by unicorn. Nice.
I’m honestly not even sure what Diana Peterfreund was trying for her. I think she was going for a mother trying to live vicariously through her daughter. She couldn’t do this herself, so she wanted her daughter to uphold this legacy. The book paints her as obsessive, but obsessive in kind of a mostly harmless way. By the end of the book, Astrid admits that her mother’s ways perhaps aren’t so bad and that they’ve helped the girls in training. But my personal interpretation? This woman was so narrow in how amazing she thinks this opportunity is that she literally blinded. She’s obsessed in the worst possible way and doesn’t deserve to be a mother. The other adults in this book aren’t any better. No one seems to have the interest of the girls at heart, and all seem to be using them in some way, shape or form. The “best” of the adults is still woefully under qualified to be doing what he’s doing though at least his reaction to the date-rape is so much more compassionate and human.
There is a plot here, but let’s be frank. The plot doesn’t matter. It’s there. It exists. But amongst characters that are either mostly one dimensional and flat or awful human beings, a conceit that is cooler in theory than in execution and some incredibly painful dialogue there is absolutely no reason to read this book. The only credit I will give the book is that I (aside from the date rape) the discussion of the pressures a young girl faces to give it up to her boyfriend are well done. That good will though, totally abolished by the rest of it. Also: the book is kind of boring and I only finished it because I don’t like to full on rant unless I’ve read something cover to cover.
Very few books make me want to rant, but fewer still make me this genuinely angry (50 Shades was the last to do so). This book went from mediocre and dull to flat out offensive. Not something to aspire to, and I’m pretty sure this would end up on a worst of the year for me list.
Verdict: Skip it.
P.S. I did attend a panel at Dragon Con where she was a panelist where she seemed thoughtful and well spoken, and it’s clear she did do some homework here. I genuinely don’t think she meant to be offensive, but I can’t help but feel that that is how it came across.