Against all odds, 17-year-old Gene has survived in a world where humans have been eaten to near extinction by the general population. The only remaining humans, or hepers as they are known, are housed in domes on the savannah and studied at the nearby Heper Institute. Every decade there is a government sponsored hunt. When Gene is selected to be one of the combatants he must learn the art of the hunt but also elude his fellow competitors whose suspicions about his true nature are growing.
Some time ago I received the monthly blogger's email from the nice people at Simon and Schuster and The Hunt jumped out at me because of the above blurb. Normally I wouldn't get so excited about a vampire book (Department 19 being the obvious exception) as I feel that YA writers have sucked (pun intended) all of the gruesome fun out of the genre, turning what should be vicious, bloodthirsty monsters into insipid, pretty-boys, who are only one step away from being in a Mills & Boon novel. However, from its blurb The Hunt struck me as being similar in theme to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, or the film Daybreakers, and I crossed my fingers in the hope that there would be blood, and lots of it.
When the booked arrived I couldn't help but feel dismay. Just look at the cover. That overly attractive male model screams pretty-boy, and so the book sat on my shelf for some time as other, more boy-friendly-looking books were promoted over it. However, last week I finally decided I was in the mood to give it a try, and even now, writing this review, I am still struggling to contain the maniacal laughter that has wanted to burst from deep within me ever since. What's was so funny? I hear you ask. Simple - the thought of all those girly teenage Twilight fans picking this book up, thinking they are going to be treated to a vampire-themed romance and instead being subjected to a brutal gore-fest that will have them waking screaming in the night. (OK, the responsible teacher part of me will also make sure my school librarian knows to mention this to any young girls who decide to give The Hunt a try).
After a great, attention grabbing opening chapter, the first part of the book moves at a fairly slow pace. At first I wasn't sure about this, but the further I got through this part of the book, the more I felt the discomfort grow and grow. The story is told in the first person by Gene (although we don't know his name for quite a lot of the book), a teen boy who is possibly the last remaining human in a world where vampires have taken over (although they are never referred to as vampires - in this world they are the norm, they are just people). This first handful of chapters introduce us to the difficult life that Gene has to lead just to survive. Before being bitten and running off into the night to destroy himself, Gene's father drilled into him a set of survival rules which Gene must follow to the letter if he is to avoid being torn apart by his peers. You see Gene does not hide out in a remote mountain hut, he lives in a suburban house, and attends school
daily nightly. Every night he sits in lessons with other teenagers who would literally tear him apart if they realised he was human (or heper). He avoids detection by going through his daily pre-school ritual, which includes polishing his fake fangs, shaving hair from his face, legs, arms, etc, masking his body odour and so on. What Andrew Fukuda did in these opening chapters was instil in me a sense of very uncomfortable dread - surely there was no way that Gene was going to survive indefinitely? Surely it would only be a matter of time before the blood splatter hit the fan? As such I was on tenterhooks, page after page, fearing the worst.
It was fortunate that the story gripped me like this as otherwise I may have given up on it early on, as a little voice in the back of my head kept on whispering that it might be just a Hunger Games rip-off. The premise is similar - every ten years a group of people (aka vampires) are selected at random to take part in the Heper Hunt, an event designed purely to keep the Ruler in good favour with his people. The winner is the person who can kill the most hepers. However, my fears were soon allayed (forget Hunger Games - thankfully it is much closer in theme to I Am Legend) when Gene was taken to the Heper Institute and the process of initiation began.
The period of initiation takes up the majority of the rest of the book, with Gene surrounded by heper-hungry vamps, but without his survival kit of razor, deodorising paste, or even that most essential of items for humans - water. Thus he spends almost every minute of every night fearing that at any moment one of his fellow hunters may see through his act. As I said before, these vampires are violent. Actually, violent doesn't even come close - unlike many vampires they have an animalistic urge to tear hepers apart, and their bodies react to even the slightest whiff of heper. Cue lots of drool, flying saliva, gnashing teeth, and so on.
I don't want to say much more about the story as I could very easily give away some of the key plot twists. Suffice to say I think Andrew Fukuda has managed to breathe life into the slightly worn out vampire mythos, with his tight plotting and skill at building suspense for his reader. I have to say though that I was disappointed that we aren't told more about this dystopian society, and especially how it came into being. Quite often I found myself with a question about the world or its inhabitants that I hoped would be answered, only to be disappointed. There were also several other elements slipped in here and there that had me wondering where the author was going, again only to find that the reveal was not to be. The book does end on something of a cliffhanger, so I am hoping that my questions will all be answered in the sequel, a book I am already impatient to read.