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.