Hunted, or Hunter–
Chase, an intriguingly horse-based historical novel by Jessie Haas, is a perfectly crafted work in a theme seen in many guises. Someone is being hunted down by bad guys.
Hmmm–Harry Potter, of course, and the 3-part series by Rachel Hawkins that ends with Spell Bound, and Bacigalupi’s futuristic ShipBreaker, as well as the current-day story beset by time-traveling futuristic bad guys, Firestorm, by David Klass. The historical setting of Chase makes it especially potent. Readers know there’s that element of political reality buried here. And as a ruse to keep those pages turning, it certainly works. Russell’s Thread of Grace holds me with the same overhanging threat…someone’s going to kill you (or characters you love)–and provides the medium for carrying all kinds of socio-political messages.
Detective stories work the other way, of course, with our protagonist trying to hunt someone else down, someone elusive. The hunter’s quest is given irresistible impetus by making the quarry particularly evil, and in these days, plain old murder is seldom bad enough. What about the more subtle themes of living well, rather than staying alive? Our reptilian brains are still incredibly powerful forces, even in the arena of unlizardlike ‘literature’.
For my own projects, I’d prefer a plot that hangs on the quest to solve a mystery, but not necessarily a mystery powered by fear. Will a plot of curiosity, or hope, give that same frisson that compels readers who are deathly afraid? What makes hope desperate enough to drag a reader along but the fear of failure? Perhaps it’s the same two-sided coin. What makes one fearful, but having a cherished hope that could be stolen away?