A Glory of Unicorns: Not quite what the introduction promises

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Bruce Coville A Glory of UnicornsA Glory of Unicorns by Bruce Coville

Bruce Coville (the compiler and editor of this anthology) promised in his introduction no sappy unicorns, tells us that unicorn love is hard and demanding, and unicorns themselves neither safe nor sweet. However, four stories into this book I found that was exactly what the book was delivering — sweet, dreamy, dear little unicorns. Contradicting his own words Coville brings us the story of ‘The Guardian of Memory’ in which unicorns have names such as ‘Arabella Skydancer’ and ‘Manda Seafoam’ and are entirely domesticated, speaking unicorns. Likewise, nearly every other author in this book seems to have no knowledge of true unicorn lore — that these incredibly shy creatures, who dwelt in the Garden of Eden, could only possibly be approached by a pure virgin maiden and even then never ridden. Many of the stories have unicorns as tame, human-loving creatures, and one only need read the poem ‘The Dream-Child’ to get the general attitude towards unicorns in this collection: lines like “starlight spinning down your spiraled horn/the dream-child, the cloud-maned”. Sigh.

However, I am being rather harsh in this assessment, as this book is obviously meant for young girls, and my expectations were no doubt far too high. Young unicorn lovers, who are quite happy to view unicorns as magical horses will be quite content with such a collection and some of the stories aren’t so sickly-sweet that parents won’t find enjoyment in reading them aloud.

A few that rise above the par are ‘Tearing Down the Unicorns’, the only story that addresses the issue of today’s views on unicorns being adorable little ponies; ‘Child of Faerie’, a nicely written and conceived story of Afton, a faerie child who chose to live for a while in the human world, but is now being called back to her true home when her human family needs her most; and ‘The Ugly Unicorn’, the creation of an Oriental myth of a young blind girl mistakenly believing that the ugly Liu-mu is the beautiful Poh unicorn.

Girls already initiated into Coville’s ‘Luster’ series will no doubt love his ‘Guardian of Memory’ story, set in the same world, and parents as well as children should like ‘The Healing Truth’, the story of a compulsive liar that finds a unicorn in a supply closet; ‘A Song for Croaker Nordge’ of an old man who places his hopes of finding a unicorn on his grand-daughter and ‘Story Hour’, the tale of an old woman teaching her grand-daughter the secrets of finding a unicorn but keeping it secret by telling her the story of the Goblin King.

Other stories destined to be less popular because of their ambiguity are ‘Beyond the Fringe,’ in which an old woman weaves a carpet for her family as bandits raid their village, ‘The Unicorns of Kabustan’ in which a boy hiding from war releases a series of unicorns that try to put an end to the fighting, ‘Stealing Dreams’, of a boy who finds a unicorn in his wallpaper and ‘The New Girl’, a short tale of a unicorn caretaker desperate to leave the confines of her small village. And of course, the sugary-sickness of the poem ‘The Dream-Child.’

Another saving grace is Alix Berenzy’s lovely black-and-white illustrations.

Read this book for your own enjoyment, but be aware that you are not reading about ‘real’ unicorns — only the idealized, modernized unicorns by authors who have forgotten what a unicorn really is.


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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