Yeva is growing up in town to basically become a maidservant, but she comes from a family wealthy enough to have maids of their own. That is until a caravan delivery goes so wrong that in the blink of an eye the family is broke. The father feels stupid and arrogant and irresponsible as he’s forced to trudge his family to his old childhood log cabin where he taught Yeva archery and hunting. The family also includes Yeva’s two sisters Lena, Ashka and one of the servants who feels more brother than title and begs to stay despite no pay and promises to simply help. Their father promises to work hard as possible as a hunter to win their life back but no one has their hopes up that he’ll ever have the money again. Meanwhile, Lena’s boyfriend Raka is growing more attached to her and a gentleman named Solmir is madly in love with Yeva, but Solmir will have to wait when Yeva’ father goes off on a hunt with their dog, Doe-Eyes, and Doe-Eyes returns without him, forcing Yeva to go out searching for him, accidentally making herself lost in the frozen woods she has only vague childhood recollections of. And something, a beast most likely, is roaming...
Romance is harder than you may think to do right. The best romances in real life take their time, allowing a relationship to reach the lengths of soulmate love, and sometimes a book is unable to give off that patience and still be enjoyable. And though there are some questionable times, especially considering the bad outweighing the good of what Yeva is put through in the beginning, there is enough to justify tough feelings. You know something generally even harder? Creating memorable history. There’s a story of Prince Ivan who chased after the Firebird and made friends with a wolf after the wolf killed his horse, and Spooner took this story far enough to give it enough relevance to the story to stay important and intriguing enough to go back to.
Each chapter ends with something in the Beast’s cursive handwriting, and the result makes Beast a mystery we want to understand, someone such gone from normal human lifestyle that he himself can’t tell the simplest human behaviour as normal. A big chunk of this book has only Yeva and Beast in it, and to be fair, a good chunk of it is just Yeva collecting her thoughts, which does justice to what the cover implies of the story. Having Yeva be completely independent of herself with occasionally no one to talk to allows us to listen to her predicaments, her fears, her pride.
There is a bigger fantasy world Spooner establishes than she can manage, but Hunted ends up being a more dangerous, tense and sweet Beauty and the Beast retelling than Rosamund Hodge’s bite into it. Fairy tale retellings these days seem to be underrated; or maybe they’re just underrated in my head. Hodge wrote Cruel Beauty, which is one of the best titles for a book I’ve ever heard. And it was okay, but light on excitement and suffered from a feeling of eventual love that was not warranted. Here the relationship between beauty and beast, nicknames literal this time, is a lot more believable, patient, and unconventional. The fantasy, which stretches into dragons and deities, ends up a little bit late into the game, but at least it doesn’t feel like a missed opportunity compared to the other strengths of the book.