Don’t Sweat. Don’t Laugh. Don’t draw attention to yourself. And most of all, whatever you do, do not fall in love with one of them.*sigh* Is this going to be a thing now? Are the “dystopian” and “vampire” sub-genres so popular that we’re have to blend them together to get a new SUPERSUB-genre? Are we going to start getting fairy dystopians? Werewolf? ANGELS? Well, that might be pretty sweet. We could have some on-the-wrong-side-of-Left-Behind shit, amirite?
Gene is different from everyone else around him. He can’t run with lightning speed, sunlight doesn’t hurt him and he doesn’t have an unquenchable lust for blood. Gene is a human, and he knows the rules. Keep the truth a secret. It’s the only way to stay alive in a world of night – a world where humans are considered a delicacy and hunted for their blood.
When he’s chosen for a once in a lifetime opportunity to hunt the last remaining humans, Gene’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble around him. He’s thrust into the path of a girl who makes him feel things he never thought possible – and into a ruthless pack of hunters whose suspicions about his true nature are growing. Now that Gene has finally found something worth fighting for, his need to survive is stronger than ever – but is it worth the cost of his humanity?
Anyway, forgive me this sounds cynical, but these books emerging to such hype at the height of dystopian popularity smacks of a calculated attempt to concentrate two separate but profitable genres into one giant cash cow. THE TWILIGHT GAMES. It makes me think that if we’d had a YA sci-fi space opera optioned for major motion picture development, there’d be a sudden influx of vampires IN SPACE.
I suppose that’s all right though, if it gives us decent books. So, on the heels the pretty shit Immortal Rules, we now have The Hunt, the more blatant Hunger-Games-with-vampires mash-up. How’d it go? Well, it’s…not totally awful. Despite the similar premises, Fukuda gets points for taking his story down a very different, non-Hunger Games-y road.
A – hell, perhaps the – big problem, however, is that the book doesn’t really hit its stride until a good three-quarters of the way through. As such, the first half may turn quite a few readers off with its numerous head-scratchers, eye-rollers, puzzling details, and OH MY GOD so many plot holes.
Much of the conflict and tension in the first half of the story has to do with Gene’s efforts to blend in as a walking Happy Meal in a world of hungry carnivores who’ve been forced into vegetarianism. As the flap summary says, vampires don’t sweat, don’t laugh, don’t shiver, don’t sneeze, don’t fidget – basically, they don’t show outward emotion of any sort. Their faces are blank masks, their bodies still stone pillars, their senses heightened, and any wrong move, wrong expression, wrong odor could give Gene away.
So how the fuck is he still alive?
No seriously, in a world like this, with vampires like these, how has Gene fooled an entire community for seventeen years? How does anyone maintain that level of control over themselves? And forget control – some things are just flat-out impossible to avoid. Sneezing? Not once, in like five or six years of school? Sweating? He’s never gotten funky? Not even in the summer?
I just don’t see it, I don’t. In just the little time we spend with him in the book, Gene does all of these things, and more, but gets away with it time after time because it just so happens that at that moment, nobody noticed. Three, four, five times in the same crowd of people, the tics that betray him go unnoticed, and we’re supposed to believe that he’s been this blatant, and this lucky, his entire life?
That’s not even taking in to account the different ways in which this society functions that are uncharitable to human existence. For one, classes are held at night, and vampire eyesight is so acute that classrooms are rarely well-lit. This poses one of the many problems for Gene that we actually witness in the book, where a teacher asks him to solve a problem on a board that he can’t see. Lucky, this is apparently the only time that this has happened, despite Gene’s so-obvious-and-amazing-it’s-a-plot-point intelligence.
Then there is the issue of food. Apparently the vampires of this world not only drink blood, but eat flesh as well. With humans being all but extinct, they live on a diet of various raw and bloody animal meats, and this is what gets served in school and during official functions, during which Gene must eat to maintain his cover.
I’m sorry, has bacteria ceased to exist in this world? E. coli? Salmonella? Staphylococcus? What about tapeworms? Diseases? Mad Cow and whatnot? Probably not, in which case it’s unlikely that Gene could do this on a regular basis for years without getting sick. But even if they had, we would never know, because the book says nothing about it. It just expects us to – pardon the pun – swallow Gene subsisting on raw meats with no ill effects.
I can see how it’s interesting to have this sort of high-wire act, where Gene has to constantly stay on his toes lest he forfeit his own life, but I really feel like the standards Fukuda’s set here are impossibly, implausibly high.
But then, the question becomes: with all the trouble involved in this great tall high-wire act, why does Gene involve himself in vampire society at all? No really, staying away from the vampires is a totally viable option. Sunlight is deadly to them; nobody goes out during the day. So why not just swear off the night life all together and live their lives while the sun can protect them? As long as they don’t know he exists, Gene is in no danger. Christ, it’s not like a truant officer is going to come to his door and drag him off to school.
Noise is made about how terribly lonely this is, but really, is the companionship of monsters worth your life? And is it really so different living by a rigid set of rules every night, unable to get close to anyone, pretending to be something you’re not?
I doubt it.
And hey, speaking of plot holes, ah, how do these vampires work, exactly? Are they dead? Alive? Is their basis supernatural? Scientific? Are they just mutants of some sort? We’re never given any clear answer. Their behavior and habits have certainly been cherry-picked from different mythologies – they age, they sleep upside down hanging from the ceiling, they burn in the sun. So we can’t glean too much from that.
So, do their actually bodies work, then? Do they piss? Shit? We’re given differing accounts: one scene has Gene in a bathroom with a urinal, another has him in one with no toilet, no shower, literally nothing but a hand sanitizer dispenser. The latter is described as being typical of all bathrooms. So which one is it? And WHERE DOES ALL THE RAW MEAT GO?
The presence of a hand sanitizer, by the way, would seem to indicate the continued existence of bacteria, as well as the idea that there is something out there that vampires are at least mildly concerned about coming in contact with. So, then, do vampires get sick? One would think so, seeing as how Gene vomiting to get himself out of a tight situation is not a dead giveaway of his humanity, and vomiting is not typically something healthy people just do.
So if vampires get sick, and sick from bacteria, apparently, then one would think that there would be some sort of outward indication. That it wouldn’t be all that uncommon for a vampire in class to sweat or shiver or sneeze, with the excuse that they were “getting sick”. And if that isn’t the case, then why the sanitizer, and to what extent do these vampires function, biologically?
Which brings us to the subject of vampire sex – and no, it’s not as hot as it sounds. Presumably, vampires can have children, yes? How else can there be vampire children in vampire schools, who grow in to vampire adults, especially with all the humans “extinct”? Clearly the vampires procreate some how.
And yet, Gene has a flashback at one point in which he takes part in a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven with his schoolmate and love interest, Ashley June. They wind up in a closet together, and perform an act that they’ve “seen in books and movies”, in which the boy’s elbow is inserted into and rubbed all around, the girl’s armpits.
So, if that’s the big erotic vampire act, then HOW THE FUCK do they get vampire kidlets? Do they lay eggs? Do vampire boys ejaculate out their elbows into the vampire girl’s armpit vaginas? Do they actually have sex but it’s not a big thing because they don’t find it pleasurable?
Once again, we have no idea, because no attempt is even made to explain any of this to us. It’s just like, “LOL YEP, they scratch their wrists when they find things funny, they armpit-fuck, they crack their necks to express emotion, AREN’T THEY JUST SO ALIEN AND WEIRD?” Much of this strikes me as different for the sake of different, regardless of how little it makes sense, which makes it very difficult to not read the first part of The Hunt and think, “This is fucking ridiculous.”
Plus, NGL, Fukuda has this weird issue with word redundancy that drove me up the wall. Every so often, there’d be a line like this:
They wouldn’t want the hepers getting too close to the Palace. On a windy day, their scent might be picked up by the Palace staff. They wouldn’t want to run the risk of Palace staffers sabotaging the Hunt.Hi, thank you, there are other words for both “Palace” and “staff”, please, god, a thesaurus. This happens over and over again, and it’s a huuuuuuuuuuge pet peeve of mine.
So yeah, by the time we rolled around to the training facility, I was not a happy camper. The fact that a “training facility” even existed made me roll my eyes. Such a blatant Hunger Games rip, I thought. They’re vampires. Why do they even need a training facility to hunt humans?
Fukuda was merciful enough to concoct an excuse for this, although I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it’s brilliantly meta or a terrible cop-out. Basically, the humans have run out, so this will be the last Heper Hunt. Since these are historically just big ol’ publicity stunts designed to boost public opinon, the Ruler is faced with the reality of being unable to quell the discontented masses with another hunt in the future. Thus, the government has decided, instead, to milk the shit out of this one. They’re looking to back a smart, charming, photogenic vampire as winner (three guesses as to who that is), and they’ll want him to adapt the tale of the Hunt into a novel for the masses to read, so that they can experience the Hunt vicariously. It’s the next best thing, okay?
To aid in this goal, they’ve essentially recruited Gene and Ashley June in the hopes that they’ll beat out the other hunters. They’ve also given the humans weapons to make the hunt more challenging, and they’ve added in the training facility to pad the page count and develop the hunters as characters for the future novel.
So basically, the training center provides the exact same purpose, in-world, as it does narratively. META!!!!
So while I suppose that closes one plot hole as best you’ll ever be able to, the attempts made to explain away Gene’s truly fortuitous presence only succeed in making it…well, more fortuitous. According to the text, Gene was specifically chosen for the Hunt, because he, along with Ashley June, would make the most media-friendly winner. So Gene, apparently, is so super-smart, super-sexy, and super-awesome that despite a lifetime of trying to hide all of these things, the government singled him out, among millions, to turn in to a celebrity. Furthermore, he goes to school with and has a crush on the one other person that the government would be okay with having serve as his understudy. And then both of them just happen to be human. Ahahaha, what are the odds?
NGL, up until that point I was convinced that they just knew he was human and were somehow keeping themselves from eating him so that he could be some sort of surprise delicacy during the Hunt. Swear to God, nothing else explains the way he was able to go completely undetected until the plot-designated reveal.
Character-wise, I guess I’m in the minority in finding Gene not totally obnoxious. Sure, he wasn’t terribly quick on the uptake, but I found him interesting, conceptually. I mean, here is this guy who’s lived his whole life in fear of being found out, who fantasizes about living the “normal” life of a vampire, a creature the reader is supposed to recognize as a monster. He’s grown to hate the parts of him that are evidence of his humanity, to be ashamed of it, because the dominant culture hates and shames it, and because that is what marks him as “other”, what has made his life this tense, solitary Hell.
He’s managed to desensitize himself to the plight of the “hepers” by separating himself, and buying in to the cultural narrative of hepers as dumb beasts, like cattle, which requires a very impressive level of double-think, seeing as Gene is a heper, himself. Basically, it’s this super-powerful form of internalized prejudice, and I buy that – you really can’t underestimate the power of social indoctrination.
It’s actually a really interesting examination of the impact of a dominant culture on a minority, and I felt like Fukuda very effectively communicated the sort of psychological state someone in Gene’s position would have to develop to survive. It seems like he was trying to make a point with this, and given his history of working with immigrant teens and the subject of his last book, I’m inclined to think that this is intentional, which makes it all the more awesome.
That being said, as an individual, some of Gene’s decisions and, well, plot-required idiocy bothered me. It took waaaaaaaay too long for him to solve his water problem, and his lack of intellectual curiosity re: the journal made me want to smack him upside the head. It’s probably a code, you moron! But alas, I suppose that’s to be saved for the sequels.
Similarly, his decision to lie to the hepers re: the state of the world just boggled my mind. Yes, yes, social indoctrination, I know, and I might even buy his decision to not tell them about the Hunt, because it could endanger his chances of survival. I don’t approve, but I get that. But to make up this huge, elaborate falsehood about secret societies of humans and the conditions of the world outside – what purpose could that possibly serve? Why lie about the shitty dystopia? What harm could the truth do, what benefit could the lie serve?
I was actually kind of amused by the self-serving nature of Gene and Ashley June. It makes sense, of course – they’re survivors, and they’ve only survived by being selfish and careful. Plus, y’know, they’ve convinced themselves that the hepers are cattle. Sure, it makes them somewhat unlikable, but Gene is able to finally redeem himself in the end. I feel like Ashley June was the one who really got the short end of the stick here.
I’m of two minds about Ashley June’s character. On the one hand, I liked how savvy she was, how adaptable, how quick on her feet, capable, and actually pretty ruthless and selfish she had to be to survive. Those aren’t typically traits that girls are allowed to have without being heavily judged by the text, and I’m not totally convinced that the text was judging her too harshly for this. Granted, she wasn’t given a shot at “redemption” the way Gene was, but she still managed a mostly sympathetic portrayal, and was certainly more competent than he ever thought of being. Fingers crossed the rest of the series doesn’t turn her in to a conniving psychopath.
On the other hand, oh man, that romance. Here again, I kind of understand the method behind the insta!love. On the one hand, they are the only two humans in a sea of man-eating sharks, and I can see how deeply and quickly one might connect with the only person who is guaranteed not to eat you for cracking a smile; how important it would be to have someone you don’t have to pretend with.
But Ashley June and Gene are both survivors, and it’s extremely counter-intuitive to see her motivated by some suicidal devotion to prolonging Gene’s life. Not wanting to go back to a lonely, miserable existence without another human? Sure, maybe, why not? But actively throwing her life out the window so that he can life some shitty caricature of a life inside a glass cage? WHY? Is it just because of all those lovey-girl hormones? God knows Gene is never tempted to do this. Sure, he wants to help/rescue her, but when the odds become suicidal? His ass is gone.
I’m also not terribly fond of how Gene was allowed to name her. She’s not a fucking cat, kthnx.
That being said, I appreciated that Fukuda resisted the temptation to go full-on love triangle in this installment. I thought maybe we’d get a bit of that when Gene met the heper leader, Sissy, but it was never followed up on, and he seemed to genuinely care about Ashley June. Fingers crossed.
The other hepers barely warrant mentioning, but I’d like to see more of Sissy’s character (although why everyone else got proper names and she was stuck with what is essentially a title representing her relation to a male character I don’t get). She seemed capable enough. Just please, Fukuda, no love triangle. PLEASE. A female character without any romantic tie to the male lead would be ~fantastic~.
At any rate, to its credit, the book does manage to take that left turn at Albuquerque that allows it to avoid following the Hunger Games formula completely. It was at that left turn that I became the most engaged with the story, probably because that was when the action really picked up. Gene’s discovery, his escape, his search for the hepers, and then their escape from the vampires ended up being pretty engrossing, and I liked where it was going.
That being said, even this sequence has its questionable moments – I mean really, the use of the horse as some sort of super-intelligent bloodhound? Really? REALLY?
I’m hopeful that the second book will really ramp up the world-building, that we’ll get a better idea of whether or not any other humans exist, what the deal was with the Scientist, and where the river truly leads. The potential for the series is at its highest when it’s dealing with the humans – it’s pretty unfortunate that it’s the stupid vampire stuff that really pulls the story down.
All in all, despite the ridiculous stupid shit, by the time The Hunt was over, I was pretty well interested in it. The abrupt ending made me want to punch kittens – ending in the middle of a scene like that is terrible, terrible form – but I’m curious to see where it goes. Fukuda’s left this story wide open, and despite everything, he’s ensured that I’ll be around for the rest.