Pros: Fascinating concept
Cons: A couple of details
Rating: 3 out of 5
I think Ike Hamill has a preoccupation with both the extinction of the human race and the concept of monsters that eat people; I’ve seen both in multiple books of his. In The Hunting Tree, we catch up with both at once. There’s a spirit creature that has been tucked away in hibernation for roughly 5000 years. Its purpose is to seek out people with ‘poison blood’ and destroy them (and anyone who has caught the infection from them). It seeks out the sickly and weak and eliminates them in order to strengthen the human race and stave off extinction. Now it’s waking up, because there’s someone for it to hunt: nine-year-old Davey. The infection lurking in Davey’s blood is capable of wiping out the human race if left unchecked. Davey and Crooked Tree (the name of the monster when it was a living man) are linked, and Davey can feel it coming for him. Of course it’s just a little tough for his mother, Melanie, to buy into any of this. The only person who seems to be tracking down the Hunter is Mike, a genetics researcher who lost his job, and who was discredited in his hobby of paranormal research. He’s determined to save Davey, but he doesn’t even have the money to gas up the car.
I like most of the characters in The Hunting Tree; they come with a fair amount of detail to them. The major exception was a late-story temporary bad guy, who was entirely a painful stereotype. The characters come with flaws, and they aren’t all likable as people, but they kept me interested. Davey is definitely mature for his age, but it seems appropriate to the details of the tale. There is a group of characters that shows up toward the end that also felt a little bit out-of-nowhere. Unfortunately, this leads me to one of my major complaints: Late in the book, a handful of characters show up who have a surprising amount of knowledge about what’s going on with the Hunter. Unfortunately, this knowledge comes circa 4,000 to 5,000 years ago via their ancestors. I completely fail to believe that the information would survive that long in any sort of recognizable form. It was commented on very casually, and it smashed through my willing suspension of disbelief. I know, I know. I can believe in extinction vectors that are nine-year-old boys, and I can believe in giant spirits that eat sick people, but it’s the passing on of knowledge that doesn’t work for me. It just hadn’t been adequately built up.
There were a couple of spots where the tale didn’t entirely hold my attention, but those faded and gave way to a more compelling pacing later on. There are a few weirdly slow bits here and there (things got stilted up around 60% of the way through or so), but they don’t linger too long.
Note for those who need the warning: there is a brief depiction of rape in here. It’s handled well, in terms of not being in any way lascivious or titillating, and it’s short.
It’s difficult to imagine how Crooked Tree could possibly come out on top given how easy it is for Davey to (deliberately or accidentally) infect others.
I enjoyed the concepts provided–this dynamic of extinction vector vs. hunter. I think this book came out before most of the other Ike Hamill books I’ve read, which could explain the rough bits and small holes here and there. Either way, I’m just interested enough to go ahead and read the sequel.