Monday, July 25, 2011

Unicorns as the Ultimate Cure All?

Diana Peterfreund's first unicorn novel was amazing. Her sequel, Ascendant, was just as good, but took some surprising twists. It took the life of Astrid, a unicorn hunter, in a new direction. Since unicorns are no longer sweet, sparkly myths with this series, we see Astrid struggle with her role as a hunter of these terrifying and majestic creatures and an admirer of the animals they really are.

Astrid continues to live in the Cloisters and hunt with the other girls, but things aren't progressing well. They are having trouble finding new recruits, and the Cloisters becomes a focus of attention for both the world at large, once people finally realize unicorns are real and deadly, and the Catholic church, from whom the convent they live in comes from. Astrid's mother Lilith has been in her glory touring talk shows and raising awareness about unicorns (and embellishing her own and her family's role in the unicorn world). Meanwhile the girls fight the deadly fight every day. When one girl gets sick and loses her hunter powers, Astrid agrees to go to England with her for protection. Before she goes to England, though, she stops in France to pursue a lead on the boy who raped her cousin Phil (Philippa) and disqualified her from being a hunter.

Once in France, Astrid quickly finds out she wasn't following the boy who hurt Phil, but rather her ex-boyfriend, the one her mother saved with the last of the world's Remedy (anti-unicorn). Brandt is still the guy who spread rumors about her in her high school, but she can't help but be drawn to him. When he takes her to the pharmaceutical lab that has been studying the unicorns (and tried to kill the hunters), she finds it is being run in a new way since the guy who plotted against the hunters was gored to death by a unicorn. Now his estranged wife is running the lab, and she wants Astrid to stay and manage their unicorn herd. Astrid agrees, but she quickly realizes the job isn't what she thought. When a baby unicorn is born right in front of her, Astrid hides it from the scientists, but they find out about her secret. Unable to bear the thought of what they will do to the baby, Astrid abandons the lab to return to the Cloisters. It is there she discovers the Cloisters is falling apart and they are down hunters. With only four working hunters, things quickly become very dangerous for Astrid. But she can't stop thinking about the herd she left behind. With unicorns in her head, things can quickly go downhill for Astrid. Will she survive the most dangerous job in the world?

This was a very interesting sequel, but it took some turns I was surprised by. Although the first book had some dark and gritty details, I wouldn't qualify it an overwhelmingly "dark" book. But this story got very disturbing. The descriptions of the treatment of the unicorns at the lab was almost too much to bear at times. When the secret of the Remedy is revealed, it is a plot twist I totally did not see coming, and am kind of stunned by! I was actually taken aback by some of the twists in this story, but they kept me reading! Sometimes the story seemed a little lost between "chunks", but overall it was a very intriguing follow-up.

Like the first book, I would probably give this to an older student, in particular one interested in fantasy and mythology. The history behind the hunters is really interesting, but my concern is that all the elements are never revealed. There are always gaps to the history and the story that are never fully explained. They don't keep you from understanding the story, and maybe they will be revealed in another book, but I wish they weren't given so sparingly. I would have like to have the full picture. In all, though, great sequel! Who can resist fanged, poisonous, flesh-eating unicorns?!

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