Giveaways Inspirations and Influences YA Appreciation Month

KILLER UNICORNS ATTACK! Diana Peterfreund on Inspirations & Influences (and Giveaway)

Earlier this year, after Thea read (and loved) Secret Society Girl, Diana Peterfreund’s debut novel, we Book Smugglers started to follow her blog and look for more titles and news from this talented author. When we first heard about her upcoming Young Adult book, we were instantly hooked: Rampant is a novel that takes the unicorn (one of the most beloved, magical creatures of myth) and turns it into a bloodthirsty killer. We had to read it. And wouldn’t you know it? We loved it. And we’re well on our way to developing huge girl-crushes on Diana.

So, when the opportunity arose to have the author over for our Young Adult Appreciation Month, we were absolutely thrilled! Ladies and Gents, without any further ado, please give it up for the lovely Diana Peterfreund!


I could probably talk for ages about my inspiration for the book (the non-western facets of the unicorn legend) and my love of stories about female warriors (my first hero was Princess Leia). But there’s also the way I combine these fantasy elements with the real world – in this case, Rome, Italy and how the truth of this amazing city is far more fantastical than anything I could make up.

One of my personal rules for setting up a fantasy world is to make everything else beyond the magic make perfect sense. I look for real-world analogs like a lawyer building a case looks for precedents. Rome, in this capacity, is a veritable gold mine.

Using examples as varied as the Vestal Virgins and the Knights Templar, I created an order of warrior nuns: women born with the power to be unicorn hunters who were tithed to the church as celibate servants of God. Their service just happened to be with a bow and arrow. It really wasn’t so outlandish an idea. Religious orders were a deeply entrenched, unbroken chain of history and learning, and a vow of celibacy was the most reasonable way to make sure that your unicorn hunters stayed eligible. It was common throughout much of European history for families to pack their daughters off to nunneries (Christian or otherwise, as the Vestal Virgins were just another type). The question was, once unicorns were hunted to supposed extinction (160 years before my story starts) and the order disbanded, what becomes of all that stored knowledge? And how does a new generation of unicorn hunters, not necessarily Catholic (and definitely not down with being tithed or cloistered anywhere!), react in a world that has changed completely, both in terms of female empowerment, and also in terms of what one does with deadly, but endangered, animals?

Once I chose Rome as the seat of the ancient Order of the Lioness (in the legends, the lion was one of the only creatures who could kill a unicorn, plus it was one of the signs of Alexander the Great, and therefore an obvious choice for my nuns’ official mascot), I decided a research trip was in order. I’d already had an idea of having my hunters’ nunnery – my invented Cloisters of Ctesias — feature walls studded with the trophies from unicorns that their ancient counterparts had killed. But the monks of Rome were way ahead of me.

Behold the Capuchin Bone Chapel beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome. For hundreds of years, members of this monastery donated their bodies to this massive work of funerary art, which first began when they moved their church, and dug up the pauper graveyard at their old location. After I saw this, I realized my problem with my “bones in the wall” idea was only that I hadn’t gone far enough!

I’d also come to Rome with a plan to check out some of the architecture of various monasteries and Cloisters, to help plan mine. Well, look what I found in a small cloisters at the Cathedral of Rome:

That’s right. Columns shaped like unicorn horns. Gates shaped like arrows and guarded by statues of stone lions. A mosaic of maidens and unicorns (along with other fantastic beasts). And all in the exact same neighborhood and built in the same time period as I planned to set my fictional nunnery. It was too good not to steal. So I did.

The location of my hunters’ nunnery is another robbery. I put it in the same spot as the Basilica of San Clemente, a small church near the Colosseum that’s a major archaeological site. San Clemente is a Renaissance church built on the bones of a medieval church (seriously, you can go underneath it and see where they stole some of the columns) built on top of an ancient Roman temple, built on top of an even more ancient Roman mansion. Every time you take a set of stairs down, you uncover a whole new facet of history. This seemed to fit well with my idea of a modern corps of hunters reconstructing the knowledge of an ancient order whose incarnation changed depending on the prevailing culture, religion, and model of institutional virginity. Here’s a picture of the exterior (public) courtyard, which is the only visual I stole for my Cloisters (except I put a dome in).

Then there’s the Galleria Borgese, where a pivotal scene in my novel is set. My heroine’s love interest is an art student and has been studying all the amazing art Rome has to offer. He takes my heroine to this famous museum and shows her the following:

This is Raphael’s “Lady with a Unicorn,” and I found it a most inspiring work of art. This painting was likely a bridal portrait, sent to the groom’s family so they’d know what they were getting: in this case a young woman, a virgin (symbolized by the unicorn in her lap), who brings to her marriage a large dowry (symbolized by the giant jewels she wears). But my favorite part of this portrait is that the unicorn, far from being horse-like, is perhaps a baby lamb or kid, and therefore much more similar to the goatlike zhi that the hunters in my book domesticate and keep as pets.

Remembering my theory of worldbuilding precedent, I love it any time real artwork coincides with my imaginary world – such as showing a dangerous unicorn, or a unicorn that does not look like a big white horse. In the novel, my heroine Astrid sees this painting and instantly recognizes it as a portrait of a hunter with a zhi in her lap.

Finally, I traveled north of Rome to research the final battle scene (no spoilers) for my book. One of the most common questions I get is how there can be unicorns hiding in Rome. Rome (pop. 2.7 million) is not as dense a city as, say, Manhattan (pop. 18.8 million), and it also features one of the largest areas of parks and greenspaces of all European capitals. It’s also surrounded by vast tracts of countryside and farmland, and the city proper is riddled with archaeological sites that are closed off from the public and foot traffic, not to mention miles upon miles of underground catacombs and ancient remains of Roman apartment buildings (not unlike the kind found at the very lowest level of San Clemente). The few larger unicorns I have hiding out in Rome in my book can certainly discover ways not to be seen.

However, when it came to hiding a large pack of them, I needed a more rural area, and so I found Cerverteri. Smack dab in the middle of the beautiful Roman countryside lie the ruins of an Etruscan City of the Dead, a twisting warren of pyramid-like tombs hollowed out from tuffa – a soft volcanic stone common in the area. Nowadays, the tombs look like giant green hills. There are some that are excavated and open to the public (and whatever wildlife happens to wander by) but miles and miles more buried under vineyards and olive groves. Here’s a picture of me standing beside one:

And here’s a view from the top of another hill/tomb.

Plenty big enough for a pack of killer unicorns to hide out in. And a truly spooky setting for the climax of my book.


Thank you, Diana!

Diana Peterfreund has been a costume designer, a cover model, and a food critic. Her travels have taken her from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the underground caverns of New Zealand (and as far as she’s concerned, she’s just getting started). Diana graduated from Yale University in 2001 with dual degrees in Literature and Geology, which her family claimed would only come in handy if she wrote books about rocks. Now, this Florida girl lives with her husband and their puppy in Washington D.C., and writes books that rock.

You can read more about Diana on her website HERE, or follow her blog HERE.

And Now, For the Giveaway!

We are giving away ONE copy of Rampant! The contest is open to residents of the US and Canada only, and will run until Saturday August 15 at 11:59 PM (PST). To enter, simply leave a comment here and let us know what your hunter name would be if you were an evil unicorn slayer. (For example, Thea would be Stormhilda Baroness of Hurricanes, and Ana is Pearlfang the Wise Warrior)

Good Luck!

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  • KMont
    August 14, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Like I said after I read the review: Want! Want want want!

    Oh yeah, my speshul name? Hmmm. HMMMMMM….May I throw a little von Trapp inspiration in?

    Ruby von Triesendorf, the Unceasing – how’s that? Too pompous? Yeah, that’s on purpose.

    Those Etruscan ruins look amazing. I do love me some Italy, especially Rome.

  • Biki
    August 14, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I’d be Yunmi, the Shadow Slip. You’d have to have a mysterious name to take on such beautiful and dangerous creatures!

    Thanks for the contest, this book is so intriguing! I would never think unicorns has evil… 😥

  • Erica
    August 14, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    hmm… my hunter name would probably be Kahlan, the Morning Darkness

    🙂 Erica

  • Crystal W.
    August 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Ok so killer unicorns seem so wrong I have to read this book!!!!! Um Unicorn slayer name…hmmm…UNI the Corny Slayer. LOL 😀

  • Lusty Reader
    August 14, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    choose your own virgin-warrior-nun-unicorn-hunter name definitely has more of a ring to it than choose your own adventure!

    maybe mine could be Calypso the Hidden Hunter?

  • MaryK
    August 14, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    The pictures would make a great pictorial guide. I want this book! But a unicorn hunter name? Ugh. How about The Slayer.

  • Sara M
    August 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    This book sounds amazing! And I guess my hunter name would be Alexia the Invisible Warrior.

  • danielle
    August 14, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Um…The Chosen One. Yeah, The Chosen One…

  • Carolyn Crane (CJ)
    August 14, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    How interesting! It was really fun to read about your influences, DP!! And the way art plays into things. I’m not entering, but I want to say that the idea of the unicorn on the lap as a symbol for virginity sort feels counterintuitive to me.

  • Moth
    August 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    What a fantastic premise! And the world-building research is kind of blowing my mind.

    Hunter name, eh? Hmm…

    Annith the Shadowchild, Bane of Unicorns.

  • Bonnie Ferguson
    August 14, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I loved the very big excerpt for Rampant on the Harper Teen site. It was made of win. 😀 My Unicorn hunting name would probably be: Destry the Determined.

  • Adrienne
    August 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    This book loooks fantastic ^^ As for my hunter name, I’m going to go with Iris the Shadow Monger XD

  • Jennifer K.
    August 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    This book looks really good.

    Hmmmm…my hunter name would be Shalanar the Fear Striker. Or something, LOL!

  • Kate A
    August 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    This book sounds awesome! I’m looking forward to reading it.

    As for my hunter name…hmm…i’d have go with Firethorn the Thorn in YOUR side…lol 😀

  • katiebabs
    August 14, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    ME ME!! I want to read some killer unicorns
    My name would be Katerina da Killer Red

  • JenP
    August 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve been waiting for this book for months! My name would be Siobhan the Silver Seeker

  • Diana Peterfreund
    August 14, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Clearly that’s what my hunters need, special hunting names.

    And can I just say that Pearlfang sounds like a unicorn’s name? Love it! (Might, um, have to steal it.)

    Don’t enter me. I’ve read it. 😉

  • Elie N
    August 14, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Lilly, of MonsterHart

    Although I have not read this book yet, I already follow Diana’s blog. She is funny. Thanks for the giveaway. Great interview and pictures.

  • Yan
    August 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I would like to be called “Destroyer of All Things Horny” LOL :mrgreen:

    okay okay how about “The Lady who Rips the Horns off of Unicorns’ Heads”?

  • Samantha
    August 14, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    hmmm….hows about…

    Edwina, the Angry Annihilator! Arrgh! 😆

  • Tynga
    August 14, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    My name would be, Tynga the faith-giver.
    Hahaha ok maybe not.. I don’t know!

  • Susan B. Evans
    August 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Great! Mine name would be Velda the Vanquisher!

    I LOVED Peterfreund’s Ivy League series – if anyone hasn’t read them, they are all really wonderful!

  • Kimberly B.
    August 14, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Okay, I definitely have to a. read this book and b. go back to Rome. Those photos you shared are all so gorgeous!
    Anyway, my hunter name. . .Beata the Bloodwringer? Perhaps.

  • Katrina
    August 14, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    The research. The research. *drools* Any author thinks about the world-building that much, they have to be good.

    Angharad the Awe-Inspiring…

  • Chris
    August 14, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Well… since I’m male, I’ll have two names. One would fit better with the book (female).


    Female Name: Athena the Brave (because I RPed an Athena once and it sorta goes with the Rome theme)
    Male Name: Owyn Fleetfoot (Krondor…)

    Since I heard about this book I have desperately wanted to read it, so here is hoping that I win. 🙂 Good luck everyone else, it sounds awesome.

  • Christina G
    August 14, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Great interview! My hunter name would be: Keegan the Stride Riter (ummm, compliments of the Stride Rite box I am looking at) 😀

  • Rene
    August 14, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Man, I can’t wait to read this book. Okay, for my unicorn slaying name, how about Cinnabar the Tramplemousse?

  • Shawna Lewis
    August 14, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Shawna Lewis

    Ok lets see.a name……Sallena Slayer of Unicorns
    Kinda has a nice ring to it!! ;o)

    I want to also say I WANT TO RAD THIS BOOK SOOOOOOOBAD!!!!! So count me in!!
    Thanks for this amazing giveaway!!!

  • Blair W
    August 14, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Blair W

    I guess I would be called Dameion the Unicorn Death slayer!!

    Thanks for this chance to win.

  • dw
    August 14, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Great interview, so excited to read RAMPANT!! My hunter name would be… Vela Hathli, Arrowstriker?!

  • Valerie
    August 14, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    WANT. The research is just… wonderful. Authors who care that much about world building own a small piece of my soul.

    My hunter name would be Tierney the Tenacious, cuz damned if I don’t love me some alliteration.

    And did I mention: WANT.

  • Angela T.
    August 14, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    The book sounds great! My hunter name would be Svea the Striker.

  • Aymless
    August 14, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I so want to read about killer unicorns!

  • Donna L
    August 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Really enjoyed the interview and seeing how you came up with elements of your book. Actually fascinating. Thanks!

    Fatesealer, the Arm of Alexander

  • Erin
    August 14, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Wow do I want to read this book. I got nothing on the hunter name front though. Umm….

    Porky, the Other White Meat

  • Wanda
    August 14, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Sssisssy – Heiress of Serpents.

    wandanamgreb (at) gmail (dot) com

  • Falling Off The Shelf
    August 14, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    This book looks amazing. When I heard about killer unicorns I KNEW I would love this book…I’m just hoping I’m right. Hope Hope HOPING I win this book.

    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  • Jacqueline L.
    August 14, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Great guest post! Loved the pictures! Want book! 😀

    I would be Alexa the Awesome! (The exclamation mark would be part of my name. It’s like an extra level of awesomeness.)

  • Valerie N
    August 14, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Wow, really really interesting.

    My name would be Leira the Iron Fist

  • Tiah
    August 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    This book sounds so good. Those pictures are amazing. I would be called:

    Brigita destroyer of one horned beasts

  • Sally F
    August 14, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Perhaps I’d be Maidenax the Self-Explanatory.

    No! I’d be Whimsey the Foo Foo Hunter (you know, boppin’ ’em on the head).

    Yeah, that’s it!

  • Sharon K
    August 14, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    This book sounds so awesome, I can’t wait to read it! My hunter’s name is Huntress Leona Wicked Wild, you have to be wicked to battle evil and wild helps when fighting wild. 😈

  • iokijo
    August 14, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    This book sounds too fantastic.. esp. with the melding of history and folklore..
    Crossing my fingers.. really want to read this book..
    hunter name ???????
    Thank you so much for sharing & offering the contest.
    Congrats on the release & great reviews.

  • Sumayyah
    August 14, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Wow – loved reading this! And my hunter name? Raven the Unicorn Smiter? Maybe. :mrgreen:

  • Donna S
    August 14, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Sounds great. Loved the post and the history and research involved. Hmm for a name I think Anii, the Cunning.

  • Christine
    August 14, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    I enjoyed the insights to Ms. Peterfreund’s inspirations and research. 🙂

    Wow. Everyone’s so creative with their Hunter names! Mine would be Izzie Kaput, Unicorn Hunter. 😆

  • Emilee
    August 15, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    This book sounds amazing!

    My name would have to be Amelie, maîtresse du fait de tuer (French for mistress of the kill)

  • I Heart Book Gossip
    August 15, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Sounds like a great book. Please count me in.

  • Rob Charron
    August 15, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Hi 🙂
    Thanks for the great post on RAMPANT and thank you Diana for sharing.
    My Unicorn Hunter name would be Jacques Enlever Corne.
    All the best,
    twitter: RKCharron

  • Monica
    August 15, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Oooh. I’ve been dying to get my hands on this book!

    My Hunter name would be…. Sakura, the Samurai? I’m horrible with names.

  • Samantha
    August 15, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Oh wow! I had no idea that Diana has a new series. I love the Secret Society books!

    I’m glad I heard of this in time.

    My name would be Tanith the Silent because I love how, according to Behind the Name, it means “the serpent lady.” It’s also the Pheonician goddess of the moon and stars, among other things.

    Now, the evil unicorns will whisper my name in fear and cower at night because I am everywhere–or seem to be. Silent, cunning, mysterious. And deadly.

    Woohoo that sounds cool!

    Yes, I did search for names and meanings just to find the right unicorn-slaying name. I had fun. 😀

  • bridget3420
    August 15, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    My name would be Deviant

  • Marial
    August 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    I love young adult novels and share them reluctantly with my niece:)

  • Cari
    August 15, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    My hunter name would be Sareth of Lapongia. Lapongia being a town being famous for its young female warriors who fight in honor of their goddess. 🙂

    Those ruins reminded me a lot of parts of Spain! Oh, Romans, where didn’t you go and build?

  • Kristen
    August 15, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Killer unicorns sounds awesome! But then, I’ve always liked unicorns and even did a project in college featuring Horny the Unicorn (long story but most fun assignment I ever worked on).

    Hmm, I suppose my unicorn hunter name would be something like Vivien the Vivacious Virtuous Vanquisher.

  • Andrea
    August 15, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    I want to read this so bad! My name would be Erynn the Eradicator


  • Dottie
    August 15, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I guess if I had to choose a name for an evil huntress of unicorns it would be Asrae Mistress of the Wild Hunt.

    Cool contest!

    Dottie 🙂

  • Diana Peterfreund Blog | What I’ve Been Up To
    August 18, 2009 at 5:49 am

    […] finish up the second book in the killer unicorn series. Now, while the research for the first book took me all the way to Rome, for the second, I’ve been staying markedly closer to home, though it’s been no less […]

  • Guest Blogger: Diana Peterfreund! | Plot Monkeys
    August 26, 2009 at 3:02 am

    […] spirited, smart, exceptionally strong protagonist, Astrid Llewelyn. I relished the chance to take a research trip to Rome with my husband, eat Italian food, drink Italian wine, look at Italian art, explore Italian […]

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