Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

This is my review for Rampant, which made me incredibly angry. Some spoilers ahead.

The book
This is about Astrid Llewellyn, a 16-year-old girl living in Seattle with her mother. Her mother, Lilith (which is so on the nose it makes me annoyed), is a bit crazy, and she’s been raised with the stories of unicorns being evil, psychotic killer animals. She’s also raised on stories that she’s the latest in a long line of unicorn hunters, and she has to keep her virginity so that she can hunt unicorns. All Astrid wants is to be a doctor and you know, normal. She doesn’t want to be the adult in her dysfunctional little family where her mother is a bit crazy, and very intense and single-minded. Astrid then meets a unicorn one day, and wowza, they’re real, and she goes to Rome to learn to fight them.

Thoughts
First of all, and this is so small, in the first chapter Astrid is babysitting and she’s reading a story about a pink, fluffy, unicorn to the kids, and she mentions she wasn’t one of the kids who played unicorns, like that’s a normal thing. And it felt so forced. I don’t know why it was there. I was like; children play unicorn? Why is this here? Is this necessary? There’s a long-standing, normal lore, outside the book, of unicorns being beautiful and kind, it didn’t feel natural.

Other than that. It was fun to read a Young Adult fantasy book that wasn’t about vampires or werewolves. It was fun to read a story where this very common thought; that unicorns are nice and fluffy and kind, is turned on its head and they’re blood thirsty killers. And I feel like the world-building was pretty solid. To sort of explain, only girls can be hunters, and they can only descend from certain families.

On the plus side; I liked a lot of the relationship between Astrid and Phil. It seemed true to life, and I found it sort of endearing that Phil had like, sixty different nicknames for her along the lines of Astroturf, Asteroid, Asterisk, ect., it was very cute and it made their relationship seem surprisingly real, I don’t know why.

On the other hand, I had a lot of trouble with it. First of all, Lilith is a caricature. She is completely immersed in her family’s eccentric history as unicorn hunters. She hopes they’re not extinct so she can make her daughter hunt them. She has no understanding for her daughter, she doesn’t even try to understand that Astrid would like to be a normal teenager. When Astrid calls her from Italy and is scared, and tired, and hurt, and basically begging to be sent home, she asks if Astrid isn’t getting along with the other girls. She lives completely vicariously. And the story and premise is so concerned with virginity that Lilith being named after a “fallen woman” is so on the nose it made me fucking grumpy. After an incident, Lilith is called to the cloister to help looking after the hunters. She is clearly using this opportunity to live the life she wanted. She has read about hunters and unicorns, but she has no real-world knowledge, she straight-up tortures her daughter, and she sends a bunch of teenagers out on a raid for unicorns, and she has no idea how many there are, and when it goes wrong she has a temper tantrum. She treats Phil, Astrid’s cousin, like she’s a fallen woman, and dirty, and even though they try to call her out on it, she suffers basically no recriminations. She basically sees Phil being sexually assaulted as an opportunity for Astrid to embrace her birthright. So she’s nice.

The virginity thing. I realize that the original myth of unicorns is very centered around virginity, but the whole concept of virginity is so socially constructed and so uncomfortable, that I found it annoying. I sort of wished that she had found another way of solving it. Because the concept of virginity is so connected to purity and girls being dirty, also in this book. Virginity in this book is strictly defined as; this girl has not had a penis inside her. So presumably the potential unicorn hunters can have all the oral sex they want? Or a lesbian hunter can have all the sex she wants? The hunters of the past pretended to be nuns, to make their virginity more natural. Which works in the 1500s, but not in the 21st century, because it is a tragedy for a 17-year-old to be a virgin. So the gist is, only virgins can fight unicorns, and unicorns are attracted to virgins. So if they have sex, or want to live their lives like they want, they’re ineligible. Philippa, Astrid’s 19-year-old cousin, is raped by her casual boyfriend, and suddenly she can’t hunt unicorns anymore. I feel like most of her assault and aftermath was handled pretty well. She feels shame for what happened, she blames herself. Her friends and cousin, and the guy who looks after the girls take her very seriously, and are kind, and try to do everything to make her comfortable, and to do everything she wants. Lilith is a fucking asshole. She blames Phil for being raped, and sees it as an opportunity for her own daughter, which is nice. She sees her niece’s assault as something she should blamed for and something she should be chided for. It’s reprehensible. And it seems like the book is trying to say Lilith is in the wrong, but she is in a position of power, being an adult and parent, and even if Astrid tries to tell her off she doesn’t really have the power to properly put her in her place. So I don’t think it was handled very well. Phil is also in a vulnerable situation, as she’s the victim, and she’s being told she did it to herself, and she doesn’t have the energy or will to fight back, because she seems to believe it herself.

Finally

Those were my thoughts on Rampant. I found it to be fun at times, I liked the concept, but there was so much about it that I found infuriating.