Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Black Unicorn - Tanith Lee

I've not read any of Tanith Lee's books before, but a recent passing mention of her name by a friend caused me to seek out the library's stock. Unfortunately they only had Black Unicorn on the shelves at that point, but I borrowed it. It's Garneresque in its brevity (138 pages of an elegant, illustrated paperback), but was quite hard to put down. The protagonist is Tanaquil, a fifteen year old girl, who is bored with life in her sorceress mother's desert fortress, where no one ever comes and which she never leaves except for a Walk in the nearby desert to ease her restlessness. She finds herself adopted by a peeve (a lovely name !): a creature "about the size of a large cat with thick brown fur over a barrel shaped body and short muscular legs. It had a long dainty muzzle, a bushy tail, and ears that would go up in points." The one that adopts Tanaquil also talks (although not in complete sentences), a side effect of the magic used by Jaive in her sorcery. More annoying is the magically affected food and drink - an orange turns into a flower, and the water fountain offers sticky berry wine.

The peeve brings her a bone that looks somehow otherworldly and she discovers it has several more and knows where even more of them may be found. They go out into the desert to get them, and Tanaquil brings them back to her room where she puts together the skeleton of what turns out to be a unicorn. She fits wheels into some of its joints, hoping to make it move, but it does not, until the night of the grand dinner her mother organises (in an attempt to cheer up Tanaquil after she threatens to leave the fort). Then it turns up in the main dining hall and after being hit by a burst of her mother's magic, gains flesh. The unicorn leads Tanaquil to leave the fort and cross the desert to a large city where she meets with various adventures until the unicorn leads her, via a portal, into the perfect world that her mother has so often told her about, the world from which the unicorn originated.

I felt, when I finished reading this book, that it was begging for a sequel. Fortunately Tanith Lee appears to have felt the same way, as it has two sequels: Gold Unicorn (which the public library has and I will borrow now I've got a replacement library card) and Red Unicorn (which the library doesn't have, so goodness knows how I shall finish the series. Possibly I'll have to see if I can get it second hand.)

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