The concept behind Andrew Fukuda’s The Hunt is fascinating – a lone, human boy who has hidden his true nature his whole life, living side by side with those who’d eat him (Yes, eat him!) in a heartbeat if they knew what he was. Gene is a sheep amongst wolves. When he unexpectedly wins the “honor” of participating in the first national Heper Hunt in a decade, he knows that it’ll result in the deaths of the last remaining humans on Earth (or as they’re more derogatively known, hepers), as well as the likely exposure of his own closely guarded secret. There’s a girl. There’s a romance. There’s an entire world full of literally blood-thirsty villains. (Who I will refer to as “Vampibals” from here on out, since they are only referred to as “people” throughout the novel, and I find that very confusing. Vampibal = Vampire + Cannibal.)
It sounds thrilling, with the potential for real originality, right? Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t quite live up to the hype.
My first issue was with the story. It took a long, long time for things to really get rolling. From the title and the blurb, I have to admit that I was expecting a very action-packed book. I was almost 2/3 of the way through the novel, when the action I had been anticipating finally showed up. Fukuda spends so much time cementing the fact that Gene has this gigantic secret, making sure the reader knows the consequences of what happens if his humanity is discovered, that the story begins to lag. Much of the story happens at The Heper Institute, the holding grounds for the specially-chosen Vampibals while they await the beginning of the Hunt. It’s a lot of politics, a lot of subterfuge, a lot of talking, a lot of Gene worrying about trying to survive. By doing this, Fukuda does successfully create and build this tense, frightening atmosphere – never letting the reader forget just how deadly, vicious and downright prejudiced Vampibals are toward Hepers. Gene is literally one paper cut away from death at all times. However, though I appreciate the ambiance Fukuda develops, it still seems to take a needlessly long time for the story to really take off. Truly, I believe Fukuda is most successful in communicating the viciousness of the Vampibals in the first few pages with an anecdote of a five-year-old human child being eaten by his Kindergarten class. Doesn’t get more chilling than that.
Not only does the story lag in the middle, but Gene’s circumstances are so highly improbable. I can accept a lot of really “out there” things in a story if given enough credibility, but I find Gene’s situation too hard to believe. First of all, he’s managed somehow to survive on his own since the age of 11. I admit that it’s possible – there are children extraordinarily mature, wise beyond their years, who are willing to do what it takes to survive. However, in such a dangerous, volatile environment, it just seems unlikely that a child of eleven could possibly provide for his needs by himself and remain so constantly vigilant for so long. Death is a great motivator, I suppose. Second, Gene has a whole Gattaca-like morning routine he goes through to make sure he blends in with the other Vampibals. He must rid himself of his body hair, keep his nails long, and wear fake fangs. He must mask his oh-so-human scent, lest he smell too delicious. He must shy away from light. He has disciplined himself to restrain any kind of human emotions or mannerisms – no widening of the eyes, no laughing, no startling, no goosebumps, no hiccups, just to name a few. I just can’t fathom that this kid has never sneezed, yawned or perspired in public, even though even one of these tells means an immediate death sentence. It’s just really hard for me to believe that he’s never had some kind of involuntary, human bodily function at school or in public? A little nick or cut that put him at risk? I just can’t buy it, no matter how disciplined someone is, life is often beyond our control.
World building is another area I had problems with. This re-imagined earth with its Vampibal population is so interesting, yet barely explained at all. It’s our world – people get up, go to work, school, recreate, shop, etc. Despite the inhabitants, the world seems to operate pretty much as normal… except for the fact that humans are all but wiped out, and these vampire-like creatures have taken our place. It’s so familiar and human, but for the people. It’s hinted that humans used to hold domain over the world, but there’s absolutely no history, no back story. It just… is. If you, Dear Reader, are anything like me, you need context – maybe not a full explanation, but a little bit of a “why” to the overall question of “What happened?” is definitely desired. As I said before, Fukuda builds up the current climate of heper discrimination and Gene’s terror at being discovered very well, but I feel very much in the dark, and I wish I had a more complete view of Gene’s world.
Speaking of Gene, he’s a tough one. Frankly, I’m not sure I like him. He’s just so buried in his lies, in hiding himself, in making himself something that he’s not, that I’m not sure he even knows who he truly is. Due to the propaganda, his immersion into Vampibal society, and his continual fear of being discovered, he’s surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) prejudiced against humans. He is even ashamed of his own human characteristics at times. In addition, because his life is built on so much untruth, trying to blend into the background and his obsession with just staying alive, Gene sadly lacks personality. It does shine through on very rare occasions, but not nearly enough. If you’re looking for a one-man Vampibal resistance movement, a champion of humanity, the lone bastion of courage, and a last hope for a dying species, Gene is not your Obi Wan Kenobi. At least not yet. His general lack of compassion – though it does emerge on, again, very rare occasions – and his absence of moral fiber is a bit shocking at times and isn’t very endearing in a hero. Though perhaps Gene’s “looking-out-for-number-one” attitude is truer to the human condition than I’d like to admit, but Fukuda does provide hope that Gene is a redeemable character.
Odds ‘n ends. The love interest… I didn’t like her all that much for many of the same reasons I disliked Gene, though she shows promise. Second, Fukuda’s descriptions of gore and death are rather shudder-inducing, and downright disgusting. Let’s just say that I may never look at a pizza the same way again. Third, the prejudice and justification for the treatment and extermination of hepers/humans is disturbing – a reminder of the atrocities that hatred can propagate. Lastly, There were a few more world building issues that didn’t quite make sense to me, such as the Vampibal’s chosen method of transportation. This particular piece of the their world is, ironically, explained, but I felt like the reasoning behind it, didn’t quite hold up.
Overall, from the lagging storyline, to the too-vague world, to the main character that I just couldn’t connect with, to the improbability of it all, The Hunt is an interesting premise that fails to live up to its full potential.