Simon And Schuster, £9.99, ISBN 978-0-85707-541-3
The Hunt has been described – derisively – by some people as The Twilight Games. Now, I can certainly understand the cynical comparisons to Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, especially considering that this book kicks off a series launched shortly after teenagers everywhere learned how to spell “dystopian”. But comparisons to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series are actually unfair to Ms Meyer, as the vampires in this story are depicted as monsters instead of sparkling PG-rated objects of desire.
So yes, in this story, we have a world ruled by vampire-cannibal types who have hunted and devoured humans to extinction. Or so the general population of these “normal” people believe. But there are still scattered humans – or “hepers” – living among these folks. They do this by not only adopting the mannerisms of these folks but also by not showing emotions, trying not to sweat (the smell is a giveaway), and other stuff that you can read for yourself, heh. One of these hepers is Gene, our 17-year old hero. He’s trying so hard to blend in among the crowd in high school while keeping his distance from the objection of his infatuation, Ashley June. But when the Ruler of the country organizes a Hunt, where selected folks hunt down hepers in a tournament watched by the adoring public, Gene gets chosen to be one of the lucky participants. Let’s take bets on whether he can even last through the whole training session without getting exposed!
Oh boy, to appreciate The Hunt is to suspend your disbelief. I know, perhaps I shouldn’t expect logic in a story about vampires ruling the world and secretly breeding humans for sport and food, but the human mind is funny in that we still nitpick on minor details after accepting the fantastical premise of the story. This is why I find myself wrinkling my nose and frowning as I start reading. So, Gene manages to hide his humanity all this while, huh? So why on earth is he in Hungry Vampire High again? Even if I can accept that he has schooled himself not to show any emotion on his face, even when he’s startled and shocked, how about sneezing? Or when his eyes itch and tear up? Since I’m not sure whether vampires need to use the loo here, what happens when Gene needs to go? Or needs a drink of water? And since vampires can see in the dark, and Gene can’t, and in this story he has problems reading something the teacher scrawled in small print on the board, how on earth did he excel his exams to the point that everyone thinks he’s awesomely smart again?
And given how many close call situations Gene experiences here with sweat and all, I’m surprised he lasted this long out there.
So yes, this one needs such a huge suspension of disbelief that I may as well will my disbelief to grow wings and fly to another continent.
And it also doesn’t help that Gene is written as a male Mary Sue. He’s of course determined to avoid getting too close to his peers – tell me again, someone, why he’s in school – but because he’s so gorgeous, every girl wants him. Ashley June, in fact, is so in love with him despite him scowling at her all the time, that she is willing to die just for him. If all girls want him, all men resent him for being so obviously super-smart that he can’t hide his intelligence even if he tries.
The problem here is that Gene doesn’t come off as intelligent at all. When the going gets tough, he actually screws up, and it is Ashley June who extricated his ass out of trouble by… well, you can read the story yourself if you want to find out. Even Sissy, the leader of the hepers who are to be hunted down, seems more capable and in control than Gene. Oh yes, the female characters here are pretty strong in their own right, and I actually like that about this book. Ashley June and Sissy are complete opposites, with one being ruthlessly efficient and pragmatic to the point of cruelty while the other is a mother hen to her charges, and so far I am so, so, so happy that there are no love triangles forming here. Of course, I don’t know what will happen in the next book, but I’d like to indulge in the fantasy that Gene will not be the beneficiary of the obligatory love triangle that is the staple of this genre. Like Toni Braxton would say, Gene isn’t man enough to be in a love triangle – his virtues and awesomeness are all informed, and he is nowhere as amazing as the author would like me to believe.
Having said all this, I can’t put the book down at all. Gene… whatever, but the female characters intrigue me. Also, the author has cobbled together a gripping read despite the lackluster protagonist. The setting is an incoherent mess full of inconsistencies or poorly explained details, but there is a taut atmosphere of fear and menace that has me at the edge of my seat. The story gets really good in the late third or so, when the pace ratchets up and becomes nail-bitingly grim.
In the end, I can’t say that I find The Hunt a great story, but the author still succeeds in getting his hooks into me. And the abrupt “To be continued”-style ending! I want to scream in frustration when I reach that part. I can’t care less whether Gene lives or dies, but I really want to know what happens to Sissy and Ashley June, so I guess I’m hooked despite everything. Maybe I should just email the author and ask him to spoil everything to me, but knowing my luck, he won’t spill and I’d have to keep buying these books. Ugh. Anyway, the final score of this book is due to it being this annoyingly edge-of-seat gripping read. It’s a mess, but damn if I don’t want to get my hands and face all dirty in it.