Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter is the beginning of a trilogy that starts off feeling like it’s got a fair amount in common with a some of the more popular post-apocalyptic YA series; books written by Marie Lu, James Dashner, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and others. Though this novel does slip away from that feeling of being geared toward a young adult audience as it progresses, that feeling never quite dissipates altogether.
Lackey does manage to set herself apart from those other authors by deviating from the trend of dystopian science fiction and instead embedding within her post-apocalyptic America a dark fantasy environment that fans of her other books will recognize as being where she truly excels. My first experiences with Mercedes Lackey were thrilling, slow burn, dark fantasy standalone novels and series. She truly plays to her strengths with this first installment of the Hunter trilogy, and it pushes her into a whole different ballpark from those contemporary post-apocalyptic authors I’d mentioned previously.
We follow Joyeaux Charmand as she leaves the comfort and relative peace of her mountain enclave where she has trained to be a hunter, an individual capable of magic and the ability to summon “hounds” from another realm in order to combat a veritable plethora of monsters and creatures collectively referred to as “Othersiders” throughout the story. Borrowing from folklore from any and all cultures around the world, Lackey populates this version of America with creatures that may be familiar to some and unfamiliar to others (depending on your own cultural heritage or exposure to others). Joyeaux (Joy) is called to Apex, a massive, protected city on the East Coast where anyone with the skills to be a hunter are supposed to be sent for the purpose of training and employment by what is a strange military government.
It was after Joy arrived in Apex that I began to see strong correlations with The Hunger Games books, in that these hunters are treated as celebrities and forced to perform for cameras that are constantly monitoring them. That’s where the similarities disappear.
There is action, ample supernatural and fantasy elements, some horror, a bit of romance, a decent bit of intrigue and political thriller mixed into the narrative, and a great deal of character development. As an introduction to a trilogy, Lackey spends a great deal of time on the world-building, and she does an excellent job.
As I had picked this up as an audiobook, I feel it is worth noting that the narration captures Joy’s simpler perspective and relative (though not overwhelming) naiveté to a degree I found impressive. The voices are largely distinct and easily discernible as separate characters.