In Mercedes Lackey’s new young adult novel Hunter, post-apocalyptic science fiction mixes with magical fantasy to produce an adventure in the tradition of The Hunger Games and Divergent. A series of catastrophes called the “Diseray” — a corruption of Dies Irae — has hit our world: a nuclear bomb (blamed on Christians) was set off in the near east, the North and South Poles switched, plagues killed countless people, and storms have permanently grounded most aircraft. These disasters culminated in the Breakthrough, a permanent rift in reality that allows deadly magical creatures to invade our world from the Otherside. Luckily, along with all of the hostile magical monsters have come some friendly ones, called Hounds by humans, even though most Hounds are distinctly un-doglike. The Hounds adopt humans who have magical powers, cooperating with them to fight against the monstrous Othersiders. These Hunters and their Hounds are the most effective weapon in the ongoing battle against Othersider monsters, called Drakkens, Kraken, vampires, Gogs and Magogs, Tommyknockers, and other names from human mythology, and the mysterious human-like Folk, mages who often direct the monsters in their attacks.
Two hundred fifty years later, society is still struggling with the aftermath of the Diseray, and the encroaching Othersiders are growing ever more dangerous. Joyeaux Charmand, called Joy, is a 16 year old Hunter with an unusually large pack of seven Hounds. Joy is required to leave her home in a mountain village to join the group of Hunters who protect Apex, the country’s largest city. To Joy’s surprise, Hunters are media celebrities in Apex, with their own television channels and floating cameras constantly following them and recording their every move and word. Joy just wants to do her job and protect society from the Othersiders, but the battle for popularity among Hunters leads to some resentment against Joy’s unusual level of skill, particularly from Ace Sturgis, the reigning celebrity Hunter, who views Joy as an unwanted challenge. Additionally, some mysterious, behind-the-scenes political intrigue is also threatening Joy and her uncle, the police prefect in Apex.
Joy’s group of Hounds is a highlight of Hunter: they are Alebrijes, fantastical creatures with neon colors, crazy patterns, and wings, spines and horns where you wouldn’t expect them. In real life Alebriges are Latin American folk art that originated with the artist Pedro Linares in the 1930s, but Joy explains that when Linares caught a fever and saw these fantastic creatures in a dream, he was actually seeing real creatures in the Otherside. Joy’s Hounds can change their appearance — they sometimes show up looking like fire-breathing greyhounds — and can speak to Joy mind-to-mind. Joy’s closest friends among the Hunters have Hounds that look like shadowy wolves or pure white winged lions.
Hunter moves swiftly and has several exciting scenes where Joy and the other Hunters battle deadly Othersider monsters. Unfortunately, the story is molded too much on similar young adult novels, focusing on an improbably gifted teenage girl whose mission is to save the world. Joy has the largest and best group of Hounds, an unlikely level of skill in hand-to-hand combat, exceptional magical combat skills, beauty (when she takes the time to fix herself up; usually she can’t be bothered), and a sometimes off-putting level of earnestness about her calling:
“I’m ready to serve and protect.”
He laughed. “There are no cameras in here, Hunter Candidate. You can save — “
Then he really looked at me. “You mean that, don’t you?” He sounded… shocked.
“I do, sir.” I was baffled. Of course I meant it! There is nothing — nothing — that is more important in a Hunter’s life than protecting the Cits without Powers.
Joy is also given to teenager-ish interior monologues and, since the story is told in first person narrative, her thought processes sometimes are tedious and superficial, and are told in a very young voice.
Rumors? Oh… great… and wait, what — what was a leaderboard? And what was I going to do about all this? When the Masters said I would be treated like a star, I didn’t think they meant this! This was all turning out way more complicated than I had ever dreamed.
Hunter has a minor romance subplot, with just a few kisses, though that relationship may be developed further in future books in this series. There are also some curious digs at Christians, with “Christers” being derided for their insularity and unfriendliness. However, eventually the one Hunter in Apex who is a Christer becomes one of Joy’s closest friends — after she sets him straight on how to treat other people.
Hunter is not a deep or groundbreaking novel, but it pulled me into Joy’s world and was a fun ride. I’d recommend this to people, especially younger readers, who are fans of books like Divergent and aren’t overly weary of the typical young adult SFF plotlines. Hunter is the first book in Lackey’s new HUNTER series, and I’ll be interested in reading more about this world.