Review: Hunter and Fox
Talyn the Dark, one of the immortal Vaerli (aka Breaker of Oaths), hunts the enemies of Caisah of Conhaero, Master of Chaos. As his Hunter, she rides her nykur on the Road or the Void itself to fulfill the bounty on Manesto, Ahouri, and Portree alike, to return them dead or alive to the city of Vnae Rae (aka Perlious and Fair). At the same time Talyn works to undo the Harrowing (aka the Great Conflagration) and fulfill her people’s oaths with the Kindred.
When I joined my first writing group many moons ago one of the first things I was called out on is what Vonda McIntyre calls the Nouns of Doom. So when a novel’s first chapter had such a freshman issue, it made me wary of the rest of the book. My worry was later confirmed.
HUNTER AND FOX (Amazon) is not Philippa Ballantine’s first novel, surprisingly enough. I haven’t read her others, and the cover even has a blurb from Felicia Day, which is why I initially picked it up so eagerly, since I follow her on Goodreads.
There are several PoV characters, but the main four are Talyn, her brother Byre, the talespinner Finn, and the mysterious Equo. They each have a unique viewpoint of the narrative. Talyn is one of a diminishing race, the Vaerli, whose magics were taken away by the Caisah–another immortal with mysterious origins and motives. She made a pact with the Caisah that forces her to do his bidding, but with the promise that he will help to redeem her people. The pact has left her guilt-ridden and scorned, but she is determined to see it through. Byre is the youngest of the existing Vaerli and discovers that perhaps Talyn’s road isn’t the only way to save his people. Finn loves Talyn, but must keep his distance, and it’s because of his love that he risks the Caisah’s wrath by spreading the truth about the Vaerli. Equo and his brother Si and Varlesh at first seem a superfluous trio, but become an interesting part of the story.
HUNTER AND FOX has quite the large cast, with several races, different magics, and various plot lines… all in an itty-bitty book of less than 300 pages. Clearly Ballantine plans on a sequel. But in the meantime every Capital Noun, magical tidbit, and terrain we can possibly journey across is thrown at us. Too ambitious for so short a book, HUNTER AND FOX comes across as rushed and feels contrived as a result of the lack of adequate foreshadowing. We’re whisked from event to event, and even the transitional movements within a scene are abbreviated and had to be re-read. The plot itself is predictable, and the climax felt like Ballantine just wanted to finish the book so she could move on to the sequel.
Another problem is the semi-formal prose that is mixed with English colloquialisms and cliches, which makes for an awkward cadence that draws attention to itself. She’s also fond of adjectives, her particular favorite being “wonderful,” as in wonderful food, a wonderful night… you get the idea. There’s the cliche fantasy events such as a torture scene, a masque, the tomboy being made-up and found beautiful–all stuff we’ve seen before. This is an author trying too hard to create high fantasy and falling flat. It isn’t something an editor can fix, it’s a skill an author will either learn on her own, or else switch to a different genre.
In its favor, the characters are an interesting bunch–what we could see of them through all the short scenes and quick transitions. The setting and magic, while both with some new concepts on old ideas, lacked any real depth because Ballantine tried to cram so much information into the story, there was no time to flesh out her ideas. Unfortunately, most readers won’t be patient enough to pick up a second book if the first is too frustrating to read. If she’s lucky, her characters will help her to pull off a sequel.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: None
- Violence: Yes, including a vague torture scene, but not gory or overly bloody
- Sex: Referenced without detail on several occasions