Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns…
The sparkly, innocent creatures of lore are a myth. Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. And they can only be killed by virgin descendants of Alexander the Great.
Fortunately, unicorns have been extinct for a hundred and fifty years.
Astrid Llewelyn has always scoffed ather eccentric mother’s stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend in the woods – thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to prom – Astrid learns that unicorns are real and dangerous, and she has a family legacy to uphold. Her mother packs her off to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.
However, at the cloisters, all is not what is seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to – perhaps most dangerously of all – her growing attraction to a handsome art student… and a relationship that could jeopardize everything.
HarperTeen, August 25, 2009
Publisher’s Weekly on Rampant
This compelling new adventure, Peterfreund’s (Secret Society Girl) YA debut, introduces an international cast of strong young women, virginal descendants of Alexander the Great, who hunt an unusual breed of monster: unicorns. Sixteen-year-old narrator Astrid Llewelyn never believed her mother’s stories about unicorns—portrayed as bloodthirsty, venomous and near impossible to kill—until one impales the boy she’s seeing. Sent to Rome (unwillingly) to train with other huntresses in response to the “Reemergence” of the supposedly extinct creatures, Astrid makes new friends and enemies, hones her powers and finds time for a little romance, while coming to grips with her new life (“Forgive me if enforced lifelong celibacy and possible death by dismemberment and poisoning don’t exactly get me excited,” she gripes). But she soon suspects (as will readers) that the war against the unicorns isn’t so cut-and-dried. With an atmospheric setting, personable ensemble cast and some reasoned discussions about virginity, this gripping page-turner evokes the same grrl-power spirit as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, packed with action, mystery and a complex and intriguing mythology. Ages 12–up (Aug.)
Wherein Astrid Is Thrice Tested
“‘I will never really leave,’ said the unicorn. Diamond sparkles floated from the tip of its glittering silver horn. ‘I will always live in your heart.'”
I swallowed the bile rising in my throat and forced myself to continue reading.
“Then the unicorn turned and galloped away, its fluffy pink tail swinging merrily as it spread its iridescent wings to the morning sunshine.“
Oh, no. Not wings, too.
“Every time the unicorn’s lavender hooves touched the earth, a tinkling like the chime of a thousand fairy bells floated back toward the children.”
Shuddering, I raised my head from the picture book to look at the rapt, upturned faces of my charges. Bethany Myerson, aged six, was holding back tears as the unicorn bid good-bye to its new friends. Brittany Myerson, aged four, was chewing on the tail of her stuffed poodle.
And I, Astrid Llewelyn, aged sixteen, just wanted the brats to go to sleep. “I think that’s enough for tonight, huh, girls?”
“No!” They shrieked in unison.
I sighed and returned to the saccharine story. I usually like babysitting, but taking care of the Myerson girls is intolerable. Always with the unicorns in this house. Each kid has a half dozen plush or plastic horned beasts lying piled on her bed, and Bethany’s bedroom is even ringed with a wallpaper border of unicorn heads with shimmering eyes and horns that glow in the dark.
I could hear Lilith now: Well, kiddo, at least it means they’ve been decapitated. My friend Kaitlyn has a mortal fear of clowns. Her mom took her to Ringling Brothers circus in her formative years, and this white-painted thing with a huge blue wig and a bulbous, blinking red light for a nose scared the crap out of her. She won’t even go to the state fair, and we’re in high school. Parents can really scar a kid with stunts like that.
Sometimes I wondered if my mother, Lilith, understood the kind of damage she was inflicting on me with all her delusional stories about bloodthirsty unicorns. When I was six, and all my friends wanted to play unicorns and run around the playground on imaginary horned mounts named Rainbow and Starlight and Moonbeam, do you think I was the most popular kid in school?
I briefly considered giving the Myerson kids the same lecture I’d given the other first graders on the playground:
Unicorns are man-eating monsters. They don’t have wings, they aren’t lavender or sparkly, and you could never catch one to ride without its goring you through the sternum. And even if it somehow managed to miss your major arteries—and it never misses—you’d still die from the deadly poison in its horn. But don’t worry. My great-great-great-great-great-aunt Clothilde killed the last one a hundred and fifty years ago.
Except now I guessed it would be more like a hundred and sixty. How time doth fly in a unicorn-free world. Also, now I no longer believed my mom’s horror stories. After several more pages of cotton-candy torture, the book ended and I firmly tucked Bethany and Brittany into bed. At last. Lulled into soporific splendor by the lackluster adventures of Sparkle the Unicorn and his merry band of Ritalin dependents, the girls soon drifted into the Land of Nod.
I wished I could forget my early indoctrination and act sanguine about these namby-pamby unicorn stories. But one-horned beasts of any stripe still gave me the willies.
My mother considers herself a militant purist. She believes that this so-called revisionist unicorn history is a disgrace to the sacrifice of our ancestors. That we should be honoring their memories by promoting the truth about these vicious beasts. These vicious, extinct beasts, I reminded her whenever I was feeling particularly cheeky. Usually, I didn’t deign to answer at all. I’d long ago learned that indulging her fantasies meant chaining myself to her lifestyle.
I set up my trusty baby monitor, closed the bedroom door, and called Brandt on the cell phone Lilith finally got me last winter. “They’re asleep. You can come over now, but I have to meet you outside.”
This was more for my protection than out of consideration for the slumbering children. First of all, I don’t know how much more I could take of the unicorn-inspired decor. Their toys were all over the house. Second, Brandt and a couch—or worse, an empty master bedroom—were a very bad combo. He morphed from vaguely risqué fling to bad-boy octopus man whenever he was in the vicinity of any marginally promising flat surface.
I was far less interested in protecting my virtue than I was in not giving it up to a boy who couldn’t pass intermediate French.
But despite his problems with the Gallic tongue, Brandt was not lacking in other characteristics prized by that culture. Like the kissing kind. A few minutes later, I was sitting on the front porch of the Myersons’ house, waiting for him to arrive and wondering what would happen when he did. The forest smelled wet and moldy tonight, and someone in the neighborhood must have had a fireplace going. In the gloom beyond the oblong bit of lawn illuminated by the house lights, I watched the trees swaying in the night breeze. They flashed the white undersides of leaves at me, then the dark tops, moving in a strange, solemn rhythm beyond my comprehension. I stared at them for a while, hypnotized, then suddenly shivered. When you sit in the only lighted spot in an area, you can’t help but think something is watching you—trees, little night critters, ravenous insects swarming just beyond the reach of your eyes.
The hairs rose on the back of my neck. Something was watching me. I glanced up at the bedroom window, half expecting the pale face of one of the Myerson girls to be pressed up against the glass, despite the lack of noises coming from the baby monitor. But no one was there. Still, the fear didn’t dissipate. I turned my attention to the fringe of woods, as if I’d be able to see little cartoon eyes blinking out at me from the darkness.
Silly Astrid. No more unicorn stories before bedtime, I thought in my best impression of Lilith. She was probably at home reading up on unicorns in one of her many rotting old bestiaries. It’s her favorite hobby, but she considers it serious research.
In the eyes of her family and the university discipline department that pulled her academic funding around the time she got knocked up with me, my mom is . . . eccentric. Unbalanced. They mean nuts. By the time I was born, it was bye-bye Ph.D., hello career of short-lived stints in every field from medical transcription to window washing. My uncle—her brother—always said my mom had so much potential. Too bad about the crazy.
Was my mom really bitter that she hadn’t hunted unicorns, or was it just that she was a single mom in a series of dead-end jobs whose biggest hobby was studying a field of cryptozoology that even the biggest Loch Ness Monster nuts wouldn’t consider valid?
The foregoing is excerpted from Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022