Black Unicorn/Gold Unicorn

I started reading Tanith Lee’s Black Unicorn a few weeks before I graduated from high school, so I was forced to return the book before I was done reading it. The title and author of the book slipped my mind, but Lee’s description of the crystalized unicorn skeleton hanging from a red-headed princess’s bedroom did not. I searched and searched for this book, but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I decided to try an image search for the book’s cover and… Voila!

There it was! The marbled cover that caught my eye so many years ago. I snagged a used copy around January, but decided to include it as part of my YA review project. It was well worth the wait, and so much better now than the first time I read it.

The image of the crystal unicorn skeleton was as strong as ever, but I found it easier to let myself be drawn into Lee’s sparse style now that I’ve become such a fan of feminist fantasy. I really loved that; the experience of reading something that I didn’t quite get when I was a teen, but made so much sense now.

The story is simple enough… Tanaquil is the somewhat neglected daughter of a sorceress who lives in a fortress. The sorceress’ magic has leaked into the desert that surrounds the fortress, enchanting the area and the peeves (dog-like desert-dwelling creatures) that live there with the power to talk. When one of the peeves shows Tanaquil a crystal bone that it dug up, Tanaquil decides to go after the peeve and help it dig up the rest. Putting the pieces together, Tanaquil soon finds herself drawn to the skeletal thing, unaware of the power that she is about to unleash and the adventure this will set in motion.

The sequel, Gold Unicorn, recounts Tanaquil’s further adventures with her sidekick the peeve as she travels the world and meets the power-hungry Empress Veriam, who wants Tanaquil to use her ability to mend things to assist her in her plan to conquer the world.

Like many fantasy novels, this series features magic, other worlds, quests, and battles between good and evil. The narrative is descriptive and filled with dry humor reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley. Both books were a treat to read after wrapping up my course reading project.

There is a third book in the series, Red Unicorn, that I have yet to read.

Green Rider

Green Rider by Kristen Britain

Expelled from school after getting into a fight with a noble lord’s son, Karigan G’ladheon decides it’s time to leave the famed Selium academy and return home. Too bad fate has something else in store for her… Making her way home on foot, Karigan encounters a wounded Green Rider, a member of the King’s messenger service, sworn to deliver messages of import no matter the challenge. Finding that the Greenie is mortally wounded, Karigan agrees to complete the messenger’s final task, to deliver a message that others would kill to intercept. Facing dangerous creatures, magical foes, and countless dangers, Karigan fights her way to King Zachary’s castle, accepting the call of the Rider.

Green Rider was an interesting read with just the right amount of fantasy and adventure to keep me engaged and up into the night despite a head cold. It was a completely serendipitous find, just a cover that attracted my attention on PaperBackSwap. It has the feel of a Tamora Pierce novel, as if Karigan belonged among the sheroes of Tortall. I find this is quite a good thing :). Unfortunately, I did not realize that it is part of a series, so now I’ve sucked myself into another series… I keep telling myself to stop doing that.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede are a humorous series of fantasy novels featuring a strong-willed princess, a dragon who loves cherries jubilee, a witch who is immune to melting by water, and a motley assortment of magical misfits and mischief makers.

Dealing with Dragons
In which Princess Cimorene decides that she does not want to be married off, thank you very much, and would much rather be a dragon’s princess. Cimorene meets the she-dragon Kazul and gets to display the many skills she acquired when not learning to be a proper princess and gets to put her quick-thinking to use when a group of dastardly wizards decide to get a little too involved in Dragon politics.

Searching for Dragons
In which the wizards return to stir up all kinds of trouble, King Kazul goes missing, and King Mendanbar shows off his sword. Cimorene, now Head Cook and Librarian to King Kazul, teams up with King Mendanbar to avert disaster and find her friend, going on an adventure that takes them across the Enchanted Forest and introduces them to new friends and foes.

Calling on Dragons
In which Queen Cimorene and King Mendanbar have some trouble with an enchanted sword, King Kazul loses her patience with the wearisome Society of Wizards, and the witch Morwen finds a giant rabbit in her garden. There’s always a new challenge to be met in the Enchanted Forest and nothing can stop Cimorene & Co. from facing it head on.

Talking to Dragons
In which the Enchanted Forest is duly enchanted and Cimorene sends her son Daystar on a quest to set things right with the help of the Sword of the Sleeping King. He encounters numerous trials along the way, faces meddlesome wizards, and makes new friends. With the help of the fire-witch Shiara, a young dragon, and the cat Nightwitch, Daystar is ready complete his journey and discover the truth of his birth.

This is a fantastic series! It is witty and ironic, the dialogue is cleverly constructed and amusing, and the characters break with tradition in a good way. Throughout the series, Wrede makes light of the genre, referring to well-known legends, myths, fairy tales, as well as more recent additions to the fantasy canon like The Wizard of Oz. Wizards are melted with buckets of soapy water and lemon juice, Rumpelstiltskin’s descendant decides to open a boarding school for all the children he acquires on the job, and all the Jacks just keep stealing from the friendly giants.

Cimorene is a no-nonsense sort of girl and a very strong character who stands out as a fantasy heroine. Her relationship with Mendanbar built on affection and mutual admiration; Mendanbar respects and supports her choices and listens to what she has to say, even if he doesn’t agree with her. Kazul is a wonderful matriarch and makes a very logical case for female king-hood. Meanwhile, Morwen is the perfect example of the perfectly content cat lady who does exactly what she wants to do.

There are many more memorable characters in the series and some great moments. It’s the sort of YA series I wish would receive some more attention as I think it can appeal to boys as well as girls and provides some subtle lessons in gender equality.

Overall, this series has become one of my favorites and I will be looking out for more Wrede when next I go to the book store (FYI… Two of Wrede’s Regency fantasy books are being reissued as a single volume called A Matter of Magic. It’s already on my wishlist 🙂 )

More than an eligible princess

I love reading fantasy novels that feature strong female characters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is a serious bias towards male characters in fantasy, not that I have anything against the brave, heroic, princes and knights, but I like to see a girl who does something more than serve as the damsel/object of desire. Last summer, I posted a request for recommendations on Yahoo!Answers and I was introduced to the novels of Patricia C. Wrede, which feature some of the best “girls who do things” in fantasy.

This week, I found copies of Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles in a used bookstore and they’re wonderful! I couldn’t put Dealing with Dragons down and Searching for Dragons is just as engaging. I’ll write up a proper post on the series when I’m done, but I think Dragons has definitely earned its place on my shelf (a coveted spot indeed, as I’ve been shelf-cleaning)