Title: Unicorn Hunting
Author: A. R. Hellbender
Trigger warnings: sex mention, virginity mention, mild homophobia, animal gore, death of family, addition mention, violence, neglectful family, bullying, sexism
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Publication date: 19 March 2016
Synopsis (taken from Goodreads)
Caught between her family’s expectations and her own conscience, reluctant unicorn hunter Caoilinn “Cal” Valderan questions the morals of slaying these mystical creatures, and finds herself in a position where she must choose between them and humanity… In this coming of age story, Cal must not only defend her principles and values, but also figure out her crush on the girl next door, as she finds herself caught in a battle between light and darkness, but she must find answers to what others dare not even to question.
About the Author
A.R. Hellbender is the author of Unicorn Hunting and Unicorn Revenge. She lives in Washington with two cats, three dogs and a gecko.
**Copy of the book was provided by the author and Caffeine Book Tours for an honest review**
**This review is for readers only and is not meant as an insult to the author whose future books I am still interested in reading**
**This review is full of spoilers because I just couldn’t keep any of this bottled up**
I’ll start off by saying, even though my thoughts on this book are… not the nicest… the author’s name absolutely slaps. Hellbender? NOICE. Also while I have a lot to critique about this, I did read the book relatively fast in part due to speed reading and in part because I actually wanted to know how the shitstorm concluded. It frankly would be a great drinking game read aloud.
I read this book on the road trip to Salem with a few friends. It was apt because the purpose of the week getaway was Halloween funsies and although this book wasn’t ~spooky~ it was certainly funsies. And hella fucking weird. I kept my friends in the car updated on all the plot points of the book and none of them could keep a single detail straight. Admittedly, I did omit character names and talk at lightning speed but even I couldn’t keep names and details straight so it’s not like it would make a difference anyways. Our collective conclusion on this book can be summed up with this gif:
Ok let’s attempt to make this a bit more coherent. I feel like an incoherent bad review loses credibility (…while an incoherent good review is like the highest compliment. Weird how that works)
The premise of the book is quite fascinating. A bunch of girls become unicorn hunters because they need to be the primary source of income for their families since it’s one of the few high paying jobs in this weird world. Cal, the sapphic *eyebrow waggle* MC, starts to question the true purpose of murdering these pretty, horny (I’m talking about the uni horn but also hehehehhe), majestic beasts for money. She also has a massive crush on one of her childhood best friends and is super jealous of all the people who get to spend time with her This one’s name starts with an A.. I can’t be bothered to look at the epub as I type this so her name will henceforth be Aoife. Her unicorn hunting partner, Delphine (?) is really mean and crotchety and from the Air people (more on the factions later) and is lazer focused on unicorn murder to feed her very poor family. Keep her in mind, she’s the voice of reason quite a lot.
Now the criteria for becoming a unicorn hunter is to be a…girl…and a…virgin.
Girls who are virgins are able to see unicorns and interact with them due to their inherent innocence. There’s a whole bit about how unicorns can see into the minds of virgins because they are innocent. RIGHT.
And young boys are only innocent when they are super young.
r i g h t .
o k a y .
s u r e.
I’ll start off by saying virginity is a social fucking CONSTRUCT. There’s a whole lot about how virginity for vagina-havers is measured by whether or not the hymen is ~torn~ versus the looseness of a vagina. SIKE BITCH the hymen is an elastic tissue with an opening already present and simply stretches with frequent penetration there’s literally no. Not to mention a tight vagina means lack of arousal soooooo take that how you will. kljbgelirhgkejhr anyways.
Basically, virgin men don’t qualify above the arbitrary age of “very young” because apparently boys stop being innocent earlier than men. In the real world maybe. But hello this is a book about unicorns and lesbians please. Don’t. And yet they did. *deep sigh*
One saving grace, virginity is not considered penetrative. A couple of girls decide to ~take their relationship to the next level~ and lose their unicorn seeing powers so like at least there’s that. But on the flip side apparently being gay is still… not exactly taboo, but folks in this unicorn hunter world think a household is a Man and a Woman and Men bring in the Big Money while Women take on a Job that they have to Give Up once they’re married.
Speaking of. Most women chose to unicorn hunt partially due to income but primarily to tide them over as single women with something to do and then leave once they get married. *bangs head on desk repeatedly*
My one strand of sanity was “well bitch at least there are lesbians. do it for the fucking lesbians”
Now that that dead unicorn of virginity has been beaten, let’s take a detour down the more ~structure of narrative~ side of this review.
The writing was a bit rough. The story was more dialogue than description, which of course has its moments in literature, but there was no intention behind this. You got the bare essential details, kinda like when you tell a friend about a book and you need to pick the most important parts for context but also gotta get to the drama so they don’t lost interest. Like when the lights go out in Among Us and you can see the outline of the ship and like a one centimeter bubble of visibility around you that’s it. That was this book. Dialogue with details are given only when you get to the critical moment that those details are relevant.
Let me give you an example:
“So I was talking to this person and they were telling me about how to find the book. oh did I mention I was at the library. and i went to the stack and I looked for the book but it was hard to spot. Oh it was a red book but all the books were red. So when I saw the red book I yanked it out but then I fell over because all the books fell on me. Oh right the red book was in a large stack and I pulled it out from the middle”
Kinda like that. Did that make sense? Maybe on your third read through.
The fact that relevant details only popped up when the dramatic plot moment was occuring made the entire book feel like one massive case of deus ex machina. The groundwork for the universe was not laid out. I get that world building and info dumping early on is really dry but the flip side of it is that none of the plot twists and near impossible character victories feel like huge moments. Reveals need to tie back to something. I should not only be able to follow a breadcrumb trail TO the reveal but also find the clues if I look back through what I read. I didn’t get to enjoy that aspect of reading at all.
It didn’t seem like there was much strategic planning in how key plot elements would be planted early on or how reveals would come together in the end. A lot of the plot felt like spur of the moment “Oh this would be cool let me just throw that in there” decisions. This book could be infinitely better if the world building was simply structured so that the bigger picture started to come together BEFORE the major conflict occurs.
Now while the lesbian plot kept me sane, it also drove me up a wall but like in a good way. Like in the same way the Bachelor franchise sends me into orbit but I cannot stop watching.
Cal is in love with Aoife (recall this is a stand in name because I don’t want to take the time to find the name on my phone). Aoife is heterosexual. This is sad for many reasons. Salt gets rubbed into Cal’s wound when her goddamned brother hits on Aoife and PROPOSES and, despite earlier instances of Aoife laughing off Cal’s brother, she ACCEPTS. The betrayallllllllll. That bit was actually good. I was pretty invested and I felt bad.
Thankfully, you get served with a consolation prize of enemies to lovers with Delphine who is a right pain in the ass but is such a ray of practicality through this chaotic book that it’s like “Awwwww gay!!! Yay!!!” Delphine is also the one who tells Cal that sapphic intercourse still counts as intercourse and therefore sapphics can lose their virginity. Yay for queer folks helping other queer folks!
Oh but then Cal’s other bff Siobhan turns out to be hella fucking jealous that Cal is mooning after Aoife and goes fucking rogue(again I don’t remember anything other than S so we’re giving her an Irish name as well just to match with the MC). Homegirl (1) turns to black magic, (2) goes to the KING (don’t ask), (3) gets recruited to fight for the King because the King’s dad died of unicorn blood addiction and he’s now on a warpath, (4) HAS SEX WITH THE KING AND HIS WIFE TO LOSE HER VIRGINITY SO THAT UNICORNS CANT READ HER MIND, and (5) learns to use a gun because of course guns are all of a sudden a part of this fucking fictional universe.
If that was a lot to process and all out of context, fear not, that was my exact reading experience.
Let’s tackle the smallest of issues here: guns. So they’re completely new weapons to these folks who use daggers and swords and arrows to kill unicorns. Guns are a curveball because they allow for precision from a distance. The descriptive introduction of gun power was relatively well done. At least for a bit. You get some abstract ~what is this metal thing that requires sparky powder and a ball~ awkwardness. The characters have never seen a gun so of course they don’t have the vocabulary for it. But then all of a sudden they know the word gun? It doesn’t even come from someone who teaches them about guns. The rookies just start saying gun and it’s like oh okay they learnt it through osmosis I fucking gUESS.
Now to explain the threesome bit: guns were only given to non virgin hunters who were secretly recruited because their minds were blocked against the unicorns. Siobhan practices black magic because she’s super bad at unicorn hunting, gets cornered because black magic is Bad and her dad was executed for practicing it (yeah I’m confused too). Cal and gang confront her so she teleports herself to the King’s palace and poses as an envoy from the unicorn hunting academy and basically learns how to fire a gun.
Again the black magic bit comes from nowhere. Teleportation was never mentioned before. And now turns out black magic is not only a formidable force but also leads to the manifestation of dark tentacled creatures that can swap bodies and also cause earth quakes. I’m tired y’all.
Right so Siobhan is learning to use a gun but she’s a unicorn hunter therefore a virgin but the King wants to keep guns a secret so HE PROPOSES TO SIOBHAN THAT SHE LOSES HER VIRGINITY BY HAVING SEX WITH HIM. Siobhan shows that she in fact does have one operating brain cell and inquires about His Majesty’s wife. SIKE she was standing behind Siobhan all this time and SUGGESTED this course of action. Anyways they have a threesome in the library (saucy and sacrilegious) and Siobhan then gets her I’m A Woman Now moment standing naked in front of her palace chamber window. She also gloats to Cal that haha I’m not a virgin nee ner nee ner.
The threesome was really uncomfortable. It was blessedly nondescript but also like… penetration was mentioned. I don’t know why sex was weaponized here… The girl was YOUNG. Like 15? The King was maybe 18? Yikes there with the age gap. 15 to 18 is a massive developmental difference and I cannot fathom how that was just left in there. There are so many things wrong with that.
The ending was comparatively normal. Big battle. Lots of unicorns murdered, lots of humans murdered. Siobhan’s blood was used to open a portal (oh yeah that’s a thing) and the unicorns fuck off to their dimension of origin. Cal is unable to deal with the fact that her long time crush is now her sister in law and somewhere along the line Delphine and Cal kiss so Cal’s like aite imma dip and leaves to go do other things with Delphine in typical U-Haul lesbian fashion. Yay for one good thing. Cal has suffered a lot.
Other things I didn’t mention but are worth mentioning because this shit was wild:
- There are blue unicorns who are the king of the unicorns and can do magic-y things
- Unicorns reproduce when they are dismembered and the cut off body part grows into another unicorn. Beheading is not effective. You gotta stab under the horn or under the front left leg.
- Cal meets the blue unicorn and gets recruited to fight for the unicorns because she figured out the duplication trick and kills a fuck ton
- Her punishment before recruitment is to be turned into a unicorn for like five days. She gets to keep that as a power
- Oh she’s also given flame throwing powers by the blue unicorn when recruited
- She decides to go live with the unicorns when Aoife accepts the proposal. Honestly big mood.
- Delphine is not a virgin but got in through some shady scheme related to the gun usage.
- Unicorns are trained in combat by being forced to walk across a chasm of lava.
- The black magic demons are tentacled. Delphine runs into one and gets body swapped for like half a day before Cal realizes what’s going on.
- The old King’s wife fed him unicorn blood which is why he got addicted and then DIED
- Oh only virgins can consume pure unicorn blood to heal. Everyone else has to consume it diluted or they DIE
- The kingdom is broken up into factions based on the four elements. The book takes place in the Fire faction. Delphine is from the Air faction and they’re the marginalized ones.
- Aoife’s house gets burned down because of anti Air faction propoganda. It’s only mentioned again because Aoife has to live with Cal to continue attending unicorn hunting academy. Nothing else is done about the fire. My money is on Siobhan frankly.
- There’s a unicorn hunter festival. Like some fucking cop propoganda festival. It would have been a really interesting point of conversation considering the hunters are actually bad people. Sadly this was not explored.
This book was really fucking weird. Despite all this chaos I kinda enjoyed it? The story structure could use a lot of work but there’s potential there. There’s really nothing to be done about the virginity bit but since non virgins kinda do play a significant role it can be overlooked depending on how you approach the subject. Admittedly the frequency of the word virgin is really off-putting.
Also, turns out this is a series. I’m guessing all the deus ex machina moments and badly placed world building in this book does its job for the later books in the series and serves as context rather than a blindside.
I feel like there’s a good chance I would just get used to the curveballs the author throws at me and just enjoy the weirdness of it all. Like this feels like that one weird series that just becomes endearing after a while despite its blaring problematic elements. Everyone needs a weird ass two star book now and again. This was a rather outlandish one and I think that actually made it enjoyable because of it’s shock factor. Sometimes you just gotta laugh and move on.
Best of luck to the author as she writes the rest of the series and progresses in her journey to improving her writing.
Let me know what you thought of it if you’ve read it? Does this review tempt you to read it just to see how weird it is? Any books similar to this that I can add to my drinking game books list? Lemme know!
See ya in my next post, whenever that might be 😬✌🏽