Year of the Unicorn: Strong introspective heroine

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy novel reviews Andre Norton Witch World 3. Year of the UnicornYear of the Unicorn by Andre Norton

Year of the Unicorn, third in Andre Norton’s Witch World saga, is a departure from the first two novels. It’s the story of Gillan, a girl with no family and an unknown heritage who has grown up in an abbey in High Hallack, far from the places we visited with Simon and Jaelithe in the first two Witch World novels. Gillan feels stifled in the abbey and longs for something more. She also feels the stirrings of a strange power within her. She finds a way to escape her meaningless life by volunteering to be one of the 13 maidens that High Hallack has promised to a group of shapeshifters who helped them win a war. This leads her on a terrifying adventure in which she discovers her power and, possibly, love.

Year of the Unicorn has a completely different feel from the previous Witch World novels. It’s written in first person and is, therefore, much more introspective than the action-packed stories about Simon and Jaelithe. The prose, also, has a completely different tone, and is most comparable (in my experience) to Ursula Le Guin’s. This comparison seems especially notable with the audio edition because it feels a lot like the audio version of Le Guin’s Voices — even the voice of the reader (though different) is extremely similar. Kate Rudd reads Year of the Unicorn for Brilliance Audio and she does a great job.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI enjoyed learning more about Andre Norton’s universe. The world-building is extensive and Norton avoids infodumping, so we just get a tantalizing glimpse of the Witch World with each book. The first half of Year of the Unicorn flies by while we learn about High Hallack and get to know Gillan as she makes sneaky plans and moves quickly to implement them. Unfortunately, the magic system, which relies mostly on willpower, is not so intriguing. Basically, supernatural things are accomplished by thinking and willing strongly enough. This is forgivable for a fantasy novel published in 1965, but it’s still boring.

Speaking of fantasy history, according to Wikipedia, Year of the Unicorn marks “the first time in American publishing history that a young woman is the primary protagonist in a fantasy book” (no citation, retrieved on May 12, 2010). I don’t know if that’s really true, but I can say that Gillan is a likable young woman and her characterization is strong. However, this was actually both boon and bane, for Gillan, as she says herself, “speaks little… but she thinks much” and each thought she has is recorded for us. Thus, we are frequently subjected to her inner queries and then her entire cognitive process as she contemplates a catalog of potential answers. This includes frequent exclamations of “I could not… or could I… but how… how could I?” (etc.) and habitual reiterations of her terror. This caused the second half of the story to drag and to become frustrating when it seemed that Gillan had worked out a solution, acted on it, and then discovered that she was wrong and had to start over. I usually enjoy a first-person point-of-view, and I loved the first half of Year of the Unicorn, but by the end, I was quite eager to get out of Gillan’s head.

Those, especially female readers, who enjoy a strong introspective heroine, are likely to enjoy Andre Norton’s Year of the Unicorn. This can be read as a stand-alone novel.

Witch World — (1963-2005) This series, her most popular, is more properly called “science fantasy.” Many of these novels are co-authored, and some include related short stories. Some are available on audio. Publisher: The story of Simon Tregarth, who fled the Earth through an inter-dimensional gate and ended up in a world where magic worked and the forces of evil threatened the benevolent witches who lived there.

Witch World novels written solely by Lyn McConchie are found on our McConchie page.


Witch World: Estcarp — Andre Norton enthralled readers for decades with thrilling tales of people challenged to the limits of their endurance in epic battles of good against evil. None are more memorable than her Witch World novels. Simon Tregarth, a man from our own world, escapes his doom through the gates to the Witch World. There he aids the witch Jaelithe’s escape from the hounds of Alizon, only to find himself embroiled in a deeper war against an even deadlier foe: the Kolder.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAndre Norton Three Against the Witch WorldAndre Norton Warlock of the Witch WorldAndre Norton Sorceress of the Witch WorldAndre Norton Trey of SwordsAndre Norton Witch World Ware HawkAndre Norton Witch World The Gate of the CatSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May TarnishSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May TarnishSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May Tarnish

Omnibus editions

Andre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's Eyrie


Witch World: High Hallack — Were-Wrath (the one with the funny cover) is a short story and a rare title — There were only 175 printed (but the story is also published in the Wizards’ Worlds collection).

Andre Norton Year of the UnicornAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieAndre Norton Witch World: THe Gates to Witch World, Lost Lands, Swords and Spells, Horn Crown, Spell of the Witch World, The Jargoon Pard, Zarthor's Bane, The Crystal Gryphon, Gryphon in Glory, Gryphon's EyrieLore of the Witch World, Were-Wrath, High SorcerySongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May Tarnish


Witch World: The Turning — There is an omnibus edition (Secrets of the Witch World) that contains the last three books.

Songsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May TarnishSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May TarnishSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May TarnishSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May TarnishSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May TarnishSongsmith, The Turning Storms of Victory, Flight of Vengeance, On Wings of Magic, The Key of the Keplian, Ciara's Song, The Duke's Ballad, The Magestone, The Warding of Witch World, Silver May Tarnish


Collections of short stories about Witch World — some stories are written by other authors

Lore of the Witch World, Were-Wrath, High SorceryTales of the Witch World, Four from Witch Worldfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTales of the Witch World, Four from Witch WorldTales of the Witch World, Four from Witch World 2 Andre NortonTales of the Witch World, Four from Witch World 3 Andre Norton


SHARE:  Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwitterrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

View all posts by

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *