Philippa Ballantine – Hunter and Fox

In a world that is constantly shifting, where mountains can change to plains and then to lakes, Talyn is the Hunter for the Caisah, and a wreck of a once-proud person. She has lost her people, the Vaerli, and her soul working for the man who was their destruction. Unknowingly, she carries within her a Kindred, a chaos creature from the centre of the earth that wants to help bring the Vaerli back to power, but she is blind to that hope.
Yet hope is coming regardless, and it wears the face of gentleness and strength. Finn is a teller of tales who carries his own dreadful secret, but he is on the trail of Talyn. He knows the danger and yet is drawn to her. Their fates are bound together.
Meanwhile, the Hunter’s lost brother, Byre, is searching for his own solution to the terrible curse placed on the Vaerli. He sets forth on a treacherous journey of his own, one that will intersect in the most unlikely place with that of Talyn and Finn.
The ramifications of this encounter will be felt by all the people in Conhaero, from the lost Vaerli to the Caisah on his throne.

I’ve read or listened in podcast form to a lot of Philippa Ballantine’s books. I’ve reviewed the first two books of her Books of the Order series, Geist and Spectyr, here on the blog and I’ve listened to her Chasing the Bard and Weather Child as podcasts, the latter even having me in tears on my bike ride to work because of its ending. So you might say I enjoy Ballantine’s work a lot. So when PYR contacted me about reviewing Hunter and Fox, I was really pleased and agreed right away. However, while I enjoyed the book a lot, this time I was a little disappointed as the book wasn’t as smooth a read as Geist and Spectyr were or as affecting as Weather Child was.

The book was strangely uneven, both in pacing and in characterisation. While the story was in itself interesting and the concept of the Chaoslands very cool, its execution left a bit to be desired as the wealth of characters, locations and storylines were at times a little confusing and left little time to explore them a little deeper than possible in the relatively short span of this novel. For example, The Harrowing, which is the event that deprived the Vaerli of their powers, is never really explained. How did they lose their powers? Did the Caisah throw a spell at them; destroy something central to their powers? And how come Talyn gets to keep some of her powers? Nothing is really explained and while I usually enjoy it when the author lets the reader discover more about the world through the narrative instead of exposition, in this case I would have liked some of the latter as it functioned more as a distraction than an enticing mystery. Similarly, there is the why and the how of the Caisah binding Talyn to him as his Hunter. Why Talyn? There might actually be an explanation for this – Talyn is descended from an important and very powerful Vaerli – but it’s never quite clear whether the Caisah is aware of this fact and if it’s the reason he chose Talyn.

Ballantine usually writes a limited number of main PoV’s, I think the three in Chasing the Bard was the highest number I’ve come across, though my memory may be faulty and I haven’t read all of her books. But as far as I’m aware she usually sticks to this limited number. Not so in Hunter and Fox, we have at least four and arguably five main points of views and I found that to be a little too many, as at times they got in each other’s way. I think the book might have benefited from at least one less PoV or more pages to tell its story, but as all the PoV’s are important to the story, I’d think more pages would have been the way to go, especially as it’s a slim novel to begin with—275 pages in the version I read. What we do get from the PoV’s is good, with my favourite being Finn’s PoV, closely followed by Byre. Finn is a fun character, a bit of a rogue and a man with a way with words; he has a good heart and obviously wants to help the Vaerli escape their oppressed state. He turns out to have a mysterious background as well, but unlike The Harrowing, this mystery drew me in instead of jolting me out of the narrative. Byre, Talyn’s brother, has a remarkably fresh perspective on all things Vaerli, as he was only really young at the time of the Harrowing and was raised by humans, as a result of which he’s got a foot in both worlds, but belongs to neither. I found his storyline very touching and I really enjoyed the latter part of his story in the book, especially the interaction with Retira.

It’s strange to find myself writing such a critical review for Hunter and Fox, for while it might seem I really didn’t enjoy this book, that isn’t the case at all. I think it’s because I enjoyed this book and the story’s potential so much, that the above points bothered me this deeply. I just wanted more: more characterisation, more explanation, just more. There is just so much potential and so much to enjoy about Ballantine’s writing, that what Hunter and Fox offered left me a bit conflicted. Despite all of this I’m looking forward to the next instalment in the series to see what Ballantine has in store for Talyn, Byre, Finn and the rest. Hunter and Fox is recommended with reservations and if you’re not familiar with Ballantine’s writing, I’d definitely start off with her Books of the Order titles, Geist and Spectyr, to get to know her writing and learn to trust the author before embarking on Hunter and Fox.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.


4 thoughts on “Philippa Ballantine – Hunter and Fox”

  1. Hi Mieneke,

    As you might have seen, I reviewed this book for SF Signal some time ago–and ran up against many of the issues you did.

    I was frustrated too, because stuff like the Chaoslands was screaming “Cool Stuff” but lots of stuff was unexplained. Too much.

    Maybe my experience as it being my first Ballantine made it even more of a dice throw for me. I don't know.

  2. I haven't read you review yet (I usually avoid reviews of books I know I'll be reviewing relatively soon), but I'm glad I wasn't the only one with these issues.

    And I imagine not having read Ballantine before would have made it even harder. I've learnt to trust her as an author to make it work for me in the end/overall, you didn't have that to hold on to!

    *goes off to find Paul's review*

  3. Thanks! I just read it and I absolutely agree. Like you, I enjoyed the unexpected agency of Finn's three friends as well. And you actually made me realise that I knew even less than I thought, re your point about when the Caisah came into power. My first reaction was, well it's about 300 years, it said so in the chapter headings, but then I realised, no that was actually the Harrowing, that doesn't mean that's how long the Caisah has been about!

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