The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins
HarperTeen, 2016, 432 pages
YA Fantasy

When a great beast begins terrorizing the world of Eurona, the king issues a challenge: he that can defeat the animal will win his daughter’s, Princess Aerity, hand in marriage. Resigning herself to do what is best for her kingdom when the king’s resources are limited, Aerity watches at people from her own kingdom and beyond are destroyed by the beast’s terror. During her visits to the fighting men (and few women) who try to defend Eurona, Aerity meets one contender who, while he has no interest in marrying Princess Aerity, feels he must do what he can to protect his homeland and family. Paxton and his brother hunt alongside the others and there’s no doubt they are good — but Paxton is drawn in by Aerity’s self-assuredness, causing an internal conflict over why he is actually fighting. In a tale that recreates the Grimm Brothers’ “The Singing Bone,” The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins is the first in the Eurona duology.

The Great Hunt came into my life because I was asked to review its sequel, The Great Pursuit. In many ways, especially after having read both books, The Great Hunt felt more like a large prologue to The Great Pursuit rather than its own book even as part of a duology. The Great Hunt lays out the foundation for The Great Pursuit but doesn’t have much of a story of its own. In fact, characters in the first novel are severely underdeveloped. This is especially obvious with the book’s main character, Princess Aerity. With little nuance, Aerity’s primary characteristic is the clichéd defiance many-a-fictional princess exhibits. The slight difference with Aerity is her willingness to go along with her father’s decree for the sake of her kingdom; this is not enough, however, to flesh her into a full being. Aerity’s one hobby — something that might help to better form her personality if done well — is merely a plot device which ultimately serves in one small scene to remove characters from trouble. Its presence in her life has no other purpose and feels, therefore, disingenuous. Other flat areas include the villain and the villain’s motivations, which otherwise begin with promise but ultimately fall.

Also troubling is the level of sluts-haming in the novel. Wyneth, who watches her betrothed die, begins to move on with other characters and one hunter in particular. She is not only seemingly punished for daring to kiss her betrothed before he dies, but is on the receiving end of sneers and other mistreatment and judgment as she develops a relationship with the hunter. The importance of monogamy in this fictional society is emphasized to the extent that it makes me wonder if the author was trying to make a point with this. While I’m on the fence as to whether we should portray humans and reality strictly as they are in fiction or condemn actions that are, in our society, generally seen as unacceptable, the fairly frequent talk of monogamy and consequences for stepping outside those boundaries in one way or another (of course more severe for women) was a bit much for me.

Higgins does a decent job with romantic moments despite her characters’ lack of personalities and even pulls off a surprise ending, but the entire premise of the book doesn’t quite add up for me. The king makes excuses for not rewarding land to the winner of the hunt by saying he needs it for his son and his other daughter’s dowry. There’s apparently no money to be had. And so he turns to…selling off his oldest daughter? Surely there were more options and, because Higgins does not explore other potential options (which causes some deficit in the world building area), readers are forced to accept that this is truly the only way.

And while a beast terrorizes the kingdom of Eurona, the stakes never felt quite high enough to warrant the tense action-adventure atmosphere Higgins tries to create. Plenty of moments in the novel are overly drawn out and slow while others are completely unnecessary, adding nothing to the plot or character development. Pursuit was certainly better, giving Hunt more of a payoff than it probably deserved, but I can’t necessarily recommend Hunt beyond that, which is why I leave it with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤