Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling Publication.Date March 8th 2016 Pages: 416 Published By: Harper Teen Author Wendy Higgins The Great Hunt on Goodreads My review copy: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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Kill the beast. Win the girl.
A strange beast stirs fear in the kingdom of Lochlanach, terrorizing towns with its brutality and hunger. In an act of desperation, a proclamation is sent to all of Eurona—kill the creature and win the ultimate prize: the daughter of King Lochson’s hand in marriage.
Princess Aerity understands her duty to the kingdom though it pains her to imagine marrying a stranger. It would be foolish to set her sights on any particular man in the great hunt, but when a brooding local hunter, Paxton Seabolt, catches her attention, there’s no denying the unspoken lure between them…or his mysterious resentment.
Paxton is not keen on marriage. Nor does he care much for spoiled royals and their arcane laws. He’s determined to keep his focus on the task at hand—ridding the kingdom of the beast and protecting his family—yet Princess Aerity continues to challenge his notions with her unpredictability and charm. But as past secrets collide with present desires, dire choices threaten everything Paxton holds dear.
Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ tale, “The Singing Bone,” New York Times bestselling author Wendy Higgins delivers a dark fantasy filled with rugged hunters, romantic tension, outlawed magic, and a princess willing to risk all to save her people.
It was taller than any man, standing on its hind legs. Wyneth gasped and questioned her own sanity as she stared in disbelief. Its body was massive, the size of a bear with wiry hair like nothing she'd ever seen. Its face was as ugly as a boar's. Tusks curled up around a dripping snout, sharp teeth shining. Its beady eyes eerily caught the moon's reflection. Everything about its stance and posture screamed feral. Deadly. Impossible.
In his eyes lived something deep, dark, and untold. Something that frightened her.
This was... exhilarating.
I'm not one to get excited about fantasy romance, or paranormal romance - or most types of romance, really. I tend to approach books that revolve around love and romantic relationships with a healthy dose of skepticism and distance. I really do, because most of them end up disappointing me. And I'm even more picky when it comes to fantasy books - I'm usually either bored out of my wits by the heavy world-building and overwhelmingly huge cast of characters, or very unimpressed with how the world is set up.
That being said, Wendy Higgins' The Great Hunt strikes just the right balance for me. The world she created comes with a pretty large cast of characters (and it only grows bigger and more diverse as the story progresses), and yes, I was a bit intimidated by that at the beginning of the story, but I think Wendy did a great job introducing them all, and making them perfectly distinguishable and unique. The way the story is set up, we first get to know the royal family and the family of Paxton Seabolt, and only later on are we introduced to the Lashed and hunters from all the other kingdoms. The history of the lands, the connections between all the kingdoms and the conflict between the Lashed and the Unlashed make this a devourable and exciting story.
The world-building is incredibly rich, flavorful and complex, but it's spread-out throughout the book and offered to us in small, easy-to-digest doses, so even though there is a lot to take in, you don't feel overwhelmed or lost. There are 5 kingdoms in this story (Lochlanach, Ascomanni, Toresta, Zorfina and Kalor) and they are all very different from one another. Our heroine, the strawberry-blond Aerity, comes from Lochlanach. The royal family of Lochlanach is rather large and difficult to keep track of, but thankfully there is a list of all the royals you can refer to if you ever get confused (it's placed right before the first chapter).
Moving on to the plot line... When a terrifying beast starts terrorizing the lands of Lochlanach, the king is forced to seek help from other kingdoms. The beast's unnatural strength and unquenchable thirst for blood has people running for their lives. No one wants to face the beast, and so the king sees no other choice but to offer a worthy reward for killing the beast - his daughter's hand in marriage. Aerity isn't thrilled with the prospect of marrying a complete stranger, but she's a reasonable girl and she puts the kingdom before herself.
Paxton Seabolt and his younger brother, Tiern are both skilled hunters. They join the great hunt not for the glory, or the princess' hand in marriage, but for the monetary reward - to help provide for their family. In truth, Paxton couldn't care less about the spoiled royal lass. He holds the royal family in contempt for reasons only known to himself. He does not trust them, nor does he wants anything to do with them. And being romantically involved with one of them is the last thing on his mind.
Paxton's cold and distant demeanor, however, does nothing to deter Princess Aerity. She simply can't fight the undeniable attraction she feels for the rough and mysterious hunter. She's drawn to him much like a moth is drawn to a flame, and considering Paxton's dark secrets, she is bound to get burned. What will happen if Paxton kills the beast? And what will happen if he doesn't?
I never thought I would ever use this phrase in my review, but dang, I totally ship these two. Forgive me, I do not know how else to describe just how much I love the idea of Paxton and Aerity together. The chemistry between them made me blush - and that is something I haven't experienced in a very long time. Paxton is a dark and brooding type of hero, while Aerity is caring and dedicated, pure and hopeful, thoughtful and brave. They are attracted to each other, but their feelings develop over time. This isn't another case of ridiculous insta-love, this is a slow-burning romance at its best. And it totally made me swoon!
The Great Haunt is a truly fantastic book. It's filled with romance, magic, political conflicts, revenge, betrayals, sacrifices and secrets. You can expect the usual Wendy Higgins awesomeness from it - and by that I mean plenty of subtle yet excruciating sexual tension and kisses that feel like coming up for air when you're almost drowning - but you can also expect more - a breathtaking, well-developed universe, a diverse cast of wonderful characters and an interesting conflict at the heart of it all. I can't flipping wait for the next book!