Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Astrid's life has always been a little strange because of her mom, her mother who is convinced they are descended from a long ago unicorn hunter and that unicorns were the most dastardly, violent creatures you could imagine. Astrid isn't happy to learn from personal experience that her mother was right, not only are unicorns terrible and real but she is endowed with special gifts to kill them that few other virgin women have. She's even less happy to learn that her mom plans to ship her off to Rome to train with other people in a barely existing recreation of the original unicorn-hunting-nunnery and her life isn't going to get better from there.
This book has been on my to-read list for quite a few years, the YA authors I followed when it came out all gave it good reviews, and yet I never thought to look for it until it popped up next on my "to read if the library has it" list. Once I started reading it I was surprised to find out just how much I did like it, Astrid was a really great character who was able to balance being unhappy in a crazy situation but she never complained to the point where I thought "suck it up, you're going to be stuck here and be good at this so just get to that part already." Her very slow acceptance of her situation, of her own skills but not of the way her life has turned out, was done really well although it did make some of the other characters like her cousin seem less well-written by comparison. I was also surprised at how "serious" the story was able to make me take unicorn hunting as well. Considering that the idea of unicorns in pop-culture is very much one of gentle innocence I was doubtful that the story would be able to convince me that they were instead vicious, bloodthirsty creatures and it worked but it did. I felt like it was because the book was never over the top with it, while people are pounding it into Astrid that all varieties of unicorns are dangerous what convinces her, and the reader, are the times she actually has to square off against one and the hunters lack of training and experience make these encounters even more deadly than expected. And once you buy into that the various, unicorn-related twists and reveals from later in the story feel plausible and semi-logical within the world of the story, Peterfreund had a very good grasp on what would break the readers suspension of disbelief and how to work around that.
I don't have much else to say here except to expect a review of the second book in the two book series (duology? duet?) sometime soon, I actually checked that one out of the library first since it was the one I had on a my list but managed to figure it out before I started reading!