"She ran. There was a roaring in her ears. Her legs moved leadenly. She willed them to move faster, but they merely staggered uselessly. Fear had robbed her of coordination. Time slowed. She was shaking. She knew she wouldn't get away, couldn't get away. Tina pushed her. She stumbled backwards, legs trembling. There was nowhere to go. Her fear was a kind of sickness in her mouth. Tina's thin, pinched face was contorted into a mask of spite. Tina's face was centimetres from her own face. It blotted out everything. Tina grabbed a hank of hair, right near the scalp. It shocked her; rough hands, the strength of Tina's hands."
Hunted by N. M. Browne is a book I discovered in my early teens. I would say the intended audience is younger readers and young adult, but I still enjoy it almost ten years on. The only thing is that the writing can seem a little young at times, but the fascinating and unusual story more than make up for it.
We follow two main characters, Karen and Mowl, as the narrative brings them together in a very original way. Though Karen is the true main character, the story is told from both their points of view, alternately switching between the two. I know sometimes that can be irritating, but it works in this book.
The story starts with Karen (in modern England) being chased by a group of girls, ultimately ending up with her in a coma. She wakes up in a different world ( a very ambiguous one at that) as a fox. She is still herself, but her memories are fractured and she can't remember anything distinctly. This means that she survives through her fox instincts, which can so strong that they completely drown out her own thoughts and feelings. Also, though this world has some magic realism, as a fox she cannot speak or understand human speech. As you can imagine, this makes the whole situation a lot worse and very difficult for her to deal with. I can't even begin to wonder what the mind would go through waking up in a different world and time (as this second world is set in the past, in what I guess is medieval England) as a fox and on top of all that, no longer being able to communicate.
Across her travels, she meets and is befriended by Mowl, a shepherd boy in his teens. Mowl becomes hunted by the Militia, as they believe his estranged father (Mowl being an orphan with no knowledge of his family) killed the king. As his son, Mowl is also blamed.
Together, Mowl and Karen must find their way through a world in a state of oppression, where talk of revolution clings to the air and any suspected are hanged for treason and their loved ones hurt and killed. The king is under the influence of his advisor. The Militia is vast, strong and ruthless, killing without qualm.
Magic of a kind exists in this world, but more on a spiritual level. There are Adepts that can sense things on a higher plane and also sense peoples' emotions and desires. Some also believe in awls- beings from a higher tier who briefly visit their world. However, the king and his Purple Path are working to wipe all this out, building temples and charging taxes to make people believe there is nothing beyond their own world and killing all those who disagree. Rebellion is a whisper in the breeze, as many cannot survive the harsh winters with the new taxes.
The world itself, as I stated earlier, is ambiguous. We get small snippets of Karen is hospital from her grandparents' point of view, so it's unclear whether the second world is real or just a dream Karen is having during her coma.
Hunted is a great read, the characters are real and throughout the story the tension is constant and building. My only real criticism is that the ending is a little abrupt. I won't spoil it, but I would've liked to know just a little more than is given, but on the whole it's a great book. If you don't like books for younger audiences, but are interested in the premise, try checking it out of the library. I would definitely recommend Hunted. It was one of my favourites when I was younger and still holds a special place for me.