Diana Peterfreund’s first fantasy novel Rampant came out last week; she’s also written several college-set novels for the chick lit crowd, but I’ll take my YA with a heavy dose of unicorns, please! And Peterfreund’s unicorns in Rampant are delightfully nasty. They have fangs and poison horns, love to snack on human flesh, and range from goat-sized to horse-sized to—gulp—elephant-sized. But what’s a supernatural nasty without its supernatural nasty-killer?
Cue the virgins.
Astrid Llewellyn has never quite understood her mother’s obsession with unicorns; even she admits they’re extinct. But when the unicorns start to reemerge, Astrid is packed off to the newly-reestablished unicorn-killing school in Rome. In between unicorn attacks, the girls there have plenty to worry about, like who’s got the best score in archery, why a shadowy corporation is funding the school, and, oh, those cute Italian boys .
Of course a book set in the modern day and using traditional unicorn myths is going to address sexuality. Peterfreund says that there’s a “strong abstinence message,” but that isn’t what I took away from the book; unicorn-killing doesn’t apply to your everyday teen, and throughout the book she treats sexuality as a normal part of teenagerdom. If you don’t want to have sex, you don’t have to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t date or kiss or work your way around the bases if you’re so inclined. She does bring up that if you have a cadre of virginal warriors, some enemies are going to think of de-virginizing them. I find that part unpleasant and gratuitous, but I was sick of rape-as-plot-device long before I opened Rampant. A post for another day, I suppose, and all the wonderful beasties and the battles in the streets of Rome make up for that blip.
I was really interested in her magical system and use of real-world legends: the unicorns hail from China, Japan, and the Middle East, and she runs with the idea that Alexander the Great’s warhorse Bucephalus (“ox head”) was a unicorn. I’m into that stuff, so I sometimes longed to stay in the library with Cory rather than accompany Phil and Astrid into town for gelato with the boys again. That said, I wolfed (unicorned?) the whole book down in one evening, and a sequel would go a long way towards answering my questions (hint, hint, Diana!).
For a bit of fun, check out these—ahem—alternate covers.
Megan Messinger is a production assistant here at Tor.com, a job that runs the gamut from licking stamps to pondering a Rampant/My Little Ponies mash-up. She is learning to play the fiddle.