...and then you get to the part of the book's namesake: The Unicorn. It's not your normal fantasy book, because instead of being filled with awe-inspiring magical lands and deeds and High Magic, and blah blah blah, etc.~ You have the world of chaos I described to you above. Indeed, when you first are introduced to the unicorn in the book, it's not a fussy, pretty-pet-me pony-type like you expect, with posies in its hair and all that girly mush (no offense, gals; I like my girly things every so often too~) you expect from what you've heard of unicorns. No, instead you have this powerful, otherworldly, fearsome creature more like a monster than some frilly confection of a girl's imagination. This creature alone strikes an elaborate and shadowy feeling of magic throughout the story, casting a streak of vivid life on the obscenity of the contrived world around it. It's so alien in the scenario of this book that it immediately catches you, and refuses to let you go. You read on for pages wondering where it went, when it'll appear again, what it wants and where it's taking you.
Then you find out. You find out everything. But it doesn't prepare you for the thrilling, beautiful concept that this book throws at you. It's like a fraction's glimpse into something you never expected, and yet makes so much...sense! And just as soon as you've got it, you get thrown yet another curve. And it's almost too much to bear, but through it, the main character, Tanaquil, finds a strength that's no longer grim, no longer stumbling or bitter. She grows in a way that you almost don't notice until at the very end of the book you realize you're seeing someone else talking, and that all the smarts and sarcasm she had before have now gone through possibly the worst and most beautiful fire ever. Knowing what she had to turn her back on would wrench anyone's heart right into their throat, because it's cruel and wonderful, sad and yet has to be the way it ended. And because of that, you realize her mind and her heart have been cured by the flames of that terrible trial, and she's grown out of that stubborn, vengeful child she was at the beginning of the book.
Oh, one other character I must talk about. The Peeve. It's actually the name of a race of little animals with thick, curly fur that live in the desert and like to burrow. I always imagined them as a cross between these really fuzzy doggies, with all their snuffling and snorting, and bone-digging and such. *Laughs* There's one in this book, and it doesn't have a name throughout the entire thing, so while Tanaquil just talks to it directly, the author addresses it "the peeve" and so on. But. IT IS SOOOOOO CUTE. Seriously! I'm a big animal lover, and I've read a TON of fantasy books with different types of animals in them, old and new species alike. But this one... is just... EPIC!!! I am seriously in jaw-dropping, fangirly-squeeing, "I MUST HAVE ONE NOW!!!!!" love with the Peeves! XD They are flippin' hilarious and undeniably cute!! <333 Plus the one that's with Tanaquil can talk, since some loose magic touched it, so you get these absolutely precious lines from it throughout the rest of the rancid situations in the book that just bring a smile to your face or make you laugh. And trust me, in this book, you could REALLY use that! From every territorial to dog-like trait it has, to the image of it throwing up tons of sand as it digs furiously for whatever it's looking for now, is so priceless in this book.
In the end, the greatness of this book is in its ending, when you find out not just what the unicorn wanted Tanaquil to do, but also what happens when Tanaquil follows it into where it leads her. And I'm being very specific here. There is something amazing that happens, but to avoid spoiling the book, I don't want to say it. However, there's something that happens when Tanaquil's in that last place the unicorn leads her to, and when she turns around and looks back behind her, and sees what happened because of the fact that she crossed that threshold...the words that she says to that place, and the way it accepts her words...that's one of the most powerful scenes in the entire book. The power of what she decided, and what she said there in that place, is profound. It's part of the choice she makes, on the very last page or two of the book, when she tells the peeve what she wants to do now. What she's going to do. All the acrid, vicious, aggressiveness of her world and ours is made up for by those last parts of the book. It makes every bad and ireful thing worth it; makes the abrupt, wild, chaotic journey seem like the smallest price to have paid for what she's learned and decided to do now. And I can honestly say it's one of the best endings to a book I've ever read. It's got such hope, maybe a foolish, thin hope, but powerful and unstoppable for someone who saw just what it could be like if it was really accomplished.
*Smiles* You won't know the full meaning of it until you've read this. Trust me, all the annoyances and stupidity and disgust is worth it for the end. It's one of those books, and definitely one of those experiences. It's just so worth it. If you're a fantasy or magic lover at all, you have to give this book a shot. It's probably not the typical magical fairytale you're used to, but it's a great story for feeding the mind with rich, amazing ideas. Bringing in my own personal experience, this is one of the five or six books I read out of hundreds when I was in 7th Grade that always stuck with me. And being a huge Fantasy reader during that time, almost all of them were the same genre as this book. Yet this was one of the very few that I still remember and keep close to my heart even now, nearly ten years later. It has influenced a great deal of my own writing over the years, until it's become a permanent staple of my imagination. *Smiles warmly* And that is the highest compliment I can pay a book and its author.
I still feel it was missing something, and it left me needing more--wanting much, much more. I could never bring myself to say it was "amazing," because there was always an element missing to the characters themselves that made it hard to feel an affinity even for Tanaquil at some points. She was a wonderful character, but maybe it was the style of the book that threw me off. It was very to-the-point and didn't elaborate on the main character in a lot of places where it could have. This made it hard to relate to Tanaquil as closely as I wanted to a lot of times. If there had been more focus on Tanaquil as the main character, this would have been eased and probably made the book a lot more relate-able and even enjoyable. Instead we get a sense that Tanaquil herself is just another character, one that we happen to be following more than the others. That's the only real complaint I have for this book: that Tanaquil as the main character should have been placed into that position a little more relate-ably instead of seeming so distant from the reader. At the same time, I can understand how this would be difficult considering the mood of the story, but I feel that it should have been manageable, and would have greatly improved the book.
Nonetheless! This is a book that is worth the read, and will probably add variety to the typical fantasy books that are out there. Its ideas may come off coarsely, but the ideas themselves are so worth your reading that it well makes up for it with them. Plus, the character is smart, if a little cynical at first. It's a great book for anyone expanding their Fantasy/Magic collections, and will give you a swift, interesting lesson in mood-setting. Pick it up, in the library or on sale, but give it a shot. You may find it more interesting than you bargained for, even if the writing style may sometimes catch you off guard and set you off balance. It's earned the stars I gave it by my book!