I was very excited when I first saw the blurb for this book – lesbian unicorn hunting, grey morality choices, fantasy realm! From the start, you know the author is full of ideas and has this really complex fantasy world in mind. Unfortunately, I found that the ideas were great, but the book really suffered from poor execution. This review will have some spoilers, so be warned.
Cal and her two best friends have chosen to become unicorn hunters, a task reserved for virginal young women, rather than getting married or going to a nunnery. Cal’s mother is an ex-unicorn hunter, so the hunting seems to be a job you can pick up as a young adult and put down when you’re ready for the rest of your life. After about a half-day of training, all two-hundred of the first-year hunters are sent out in pairs into the forest to hunt down unicorns, and most of the pairs are successful. It never really made sense to me why they’d need a dedicated training school if unicorn hunting was so easy that two untrained girls can take down multiple unicorns on their first day. There’s a great deal of mystery around the reasons for hunting at the beginning – and most of the unicorn hunters have no idea why they’re doing it, although Cal soon finds out.
There are monsters, intrigue, and betrayal, but I was never able to get past my initial problems with the world building. There are so many interesting ideas – the reproduction of unicorns, for example – but the world is full of holes. And now we get into the spoilers proper.
If hunting unicorns is so vital to the world, and there are so many unicorn hunters around, why did no one ever notice that unicorns clone themselves (much like flatworms) nigh-instantly? If the world depends on unicorn blood to provide healing, why haven’t they just started farming unicorns? I understand that unicorns are magic and probably couldn’t be domesticated, but the first thing that came to mind when I saw how the unicorns reproduced – and that the hunters are paid per unicorn killed – was how you could easily set up a system to provide yourself with almost infinite unicorns.
I also wasn’t terribly fond of Cal, unfortunately. She went from awed by the beauty of unicorns to SlaughterCal-9000 over the course of a day, and these extreme changes in views weren’t well explained. I appreciated the way that the narration showed that she was attracted to women in general, not just her first crush, but I was never really able to relate to her.
Overall, I think Unicorn Hunting definitely feels like a first novel – it has some great ideas, but would benefit from a lot of polishing. I think, for me, if the author sat down with her world-building and took her ideas to their logical conclusion, they’ll really have an interesting story on their hands.