Katharine's Reviews > Rampant

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
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's review
Jan 18, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: ya, fantasy, adventure, 2012

Although Rampant is very different in genre and subject matter, I can't help comparing it to Diana Peterfreund's other series, Secret Society Girl and its sequels - both favorably and unfavorably.

Let's start with the good: Rampant is very well-written. I think Peterfreund's prose is smoother and more consistent in this book. Setting descriptions are vivid, and her action scenes are excellent - they're clear and easy to envision, without losing the fast pace. This is something a lot of authors never get right (including, in my opinion, JK Rowling). Peterfreund definitely has a knack for writing un-put-down-able books. Without using obvious techniques like cliffhangers on every chapter, she keeps me glued to the page (this was true for the SSG series too).

The subject and setting, a group of young woman who are destined by inheritance and blood to hunt down dangerous man-eating unicorns, is of course extremely creative and unique. It's another compliment to the author that as bizarre as this sounds, she somehow makes it believable within the framework of the story.

Now, unfortunately, we get to the flaws. I said the setting is surprisingly believable, which it is, but the novel opening I felt was weak and rushed. Astrid, the heroine, gets too many surprising revelations in a short time without really processing them, and thus the reader doesn't get to process either. It feels a bit info-dumpy, and there are portions that are told, not shown, which would have been stronger if we got to experience through Astrid's emotions and reactions. Instead of having her read a brochure about the secret order of unicorn hunters, have her discover it little by little with lots of dialogue and questions. Once we get truly established in the storyline, the writing is much much stronger, but the first few chapters were shockingly un-grabby considering Peterfreund's usual skill.

A related problem is that major conflicts are set up in the opening but barely touched on later. A major weak point was Astrid's relationship with her obsessive mother. The mother's characterization seemed exaggerated and lacked the subtlety I noticed in Peterfreund's other books, and Astrid fails to deal with the relationship in a believable way. The jump from overly-pushy Lilith to overly-concerned Lilith felt clunky, and then she completely disappears from the denouement of the novel.

This brings me to characterization. It was spotty. Peterfreund tends to write ensemble-cast stories, and of course not all the many side characters can get equal attention. But I felt she handled this better in the SSG series with quick and memorable character sketches. Here, a number of the other unicorn hunters tended to blur together for me. On the other hand, Astrid's cousin Phil I thought was brilliantly drawn and very identifiable. In fact she tended to steal my attention from Astrid herself, which may be only because I find it easier to relate to a college student than a high-school-aged protagonist, but I suspect may be also due to the fact that Phil is better written than Astrid.

Most unfortunate of all, because I know Peterfreund can write sizzling romance, Astrid's love interest came across as completely bland and flat. He seemed to exist only to provide info-dumps about Rome, and as a backdrop for Astrid's angsting about her required unicorn-hunter virginity. (Which, admittedly, was an issue Peterfreund mostly handled with subtlety and nuance.) It's hard to tell why Astrid falls for him, other than that he acts like a gentleman toward her. Yes, that's a nice quality for your hero, but it doesn't really provide a complete or interesting characterization.

Astrid herself is a mixed bag for me. While she's a strong heroine, some of the most interesting conflicts in her character were, again, brushed over. In the SSG series, Amy's massive self-doubt issues and her struggle to figure out her place provide a character arc that continues throughout the series, and is particularly well-written in book 4. Astrid, similarly, is torn between her destiny and her natural inclinations, but the attempt at resolution is really anvilicious and didn't convince me that her motivations made much sense. Both series are written in first-person, but Amy's voice in the SSG series had a lot more personality and zing. The narration here didn't give me a good handle on who Astrid really is.

The SSG series got stronger as it progressed, so I'm really hoping that the next few books in the Killer Unicorns series clear up some of these characterization issues. At any rate, Rampant was definitely good enough to make me want to continue reading the sequels.
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