THE HUNTERS by David Wragg (BOOK REVIEW)
‘Why are stories so important?’
The question seemed to shock him. ‘Stories are vital, little one. Whether true or not, they tell us who we are, and who we might wish to be.’
Stories are most certainly important, it’s why we do what we do, here on the Hive. They’re important to you too, which is why you’re here, reading this. Stories are important to me, because they take me places. People get ‘wanderlust’ wanting to explore our own world, but I get wanderlust for other worlds; so the most important stories to me are the ones that transport me, utterly. The Hunters took me away, and I loved every minute of my adventure in this world.
David Wragg is a writer I’ve been meaning to get round to for ages; Nils extolled heavily on the virtues of The Black Hawks and The Righteous, so onto the TBR they went and unfortunately stayed. I cannot believe I took so long to listen to my bestie and read something of his. David Wragg is one of the best storytellers out there right now. A bold claim. Let’s see if I can try and do justice to The Hunters and said claim.
The Hunters is a fantasy western set in the same secondary world as Wragg’s previous two books, but a number of years on from those events. Apparently there are connections, but I didn’t once feel, reading The Hunters, that I was missing something from not having read Wragg’s other works. There’s nothing worse than an author claiming you don’t need to read the other books, but assuming you have and then treating their readers with that expectation. Instead, Wragg lets his world and incredible characters speak for themselves, and now I want to read the previous books just so I can return to this world.
Ree is trying to eke out an existence as a horse farmer in some backwater run-down mining town on the edge of what really can’t and shouldn’t be called civilisation. A strange place to decide to settle upon to raise her niece Javani, perhaps, but they make it work. Until they’re finally discovered, and Javani finally hears some new and disturbing stories pertaining to her existence. Stories that differ vastly to the one Ree has brought her up on.
Having been hunted, they must make good their escape; but the unpassable mountains to their west and desert to the east don’t leave them with a great deal of options.
A simple enough premise, right? Sure, this story is not a great sweeping fantasy epic. It’s a page-burning, dusty dirty keep-you-up-too-late chase that doesn’t let up. Ree tries to employ various gambits and bluffs to keep Javani safe, but there’s only so much you can do in the face of blind persistence and a Prince with a claim to protect.
‘This group cannot run, it cannot hide in gullies, it cannot tread soft and quiet below moonlit ridges. These birds will be plucked before we reach the foot, and us along with them – when it should have been us doing the plucking!’
‘Cease your worry, Anashe. The Goddess has provided, and I will not refuse her gift.’
Anashe shook her head, the muscles of her jaw sharp and hard. ‘You’re the worst plucker of all.’
What lifted this story from merely being an adventurous (hilarious) romp in a secondary world version of the wild west, was firstly Wragg’s incredible cast of characters, and secondly his very clever writing. Each character, whether a perspective protagonist, villain, or side-character, was utterly believable, human, and distinctive. There wasn’t a huge cast, but there was enough to make this quite the impressive feat. Everyone I’ve spoken to about The Hunters so far have named Aki their favourite character; he’s the one in the first quote teaching us the importance of stories, for he is storyteller. His relationship with his sister, Anashe, is quite possibly the highlight of the story. They are a mysterious pair, underestimated, their connection a joy to read – and their sibling bickering just so much fun to follow. But my favourite aspect of the book was, as I said, Wragg’s clever writing. He’s able to convey such a lot of emotion and understanding without it feeling melodramatic or heavy-handed. He leaves space for the reader to read between the lines and infer from what is not said just as much as from what is. I wouldn’t describe his prose as purple, or overly-descriptive, yet the world is wholly immersive, I felt myself there in the dust and the heat with these characters.
The Hunters is an easy but worthwhile read, a page-burning adventure that explores the notions of family and what it means to be there for each other. The idea of being able to know yourself, despite not necessarily knowing where you come from, or who. This story has a vitality to it that isn’t to be missed, that will bring me back for more of Wragg’s stories in future.