*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the authors, Tachyon Publications and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Unicorns: Not just for virgins anymore. Here are sixteen lovely, powerful, intricate, and unexpected unicorn tales from fantasy icons including Garth Nix, Peter S. Beagle, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carrie Vaughn, and more. In this volume you will find two would-be hunters who enlist an innkeeper to find a priest hiding the secret of the last unicorn. A time traveler tries to corral an unruly mythological beast that might never have existed at all. The lover and ex-boyfriend of a dying woman join forces to find a miraculous remedy in New York City. And a small-town writer of historical romances discovers a sliver of a mysterious horn in a slice of apple pie.
Like many, I have always loved the idea of unicorns, but this anthology made it clear to me that I have no real idea of what they are or mean. There are sixteen stories here, and each author is able to spin something completely new from the bare bones of what is commonly known of the mythical beasts; which really amounts to not much more than: horns and virgins.
This given, it should be unsurprising that there is a focus on sex and not-sex; purity and innocence, retained and lost, given, taken or held tight. these are not fairytales for children. There is darkness here: sexual assault, violence, miscarriage, blood, death.
Many of the unicorns depicted, though not all, are indeed magical. Nearly all of them are wild animals. Some are merely catalysts for human actions, or repositories for (magical or not) horns that can be taken and used by humans. Being used is a theme that recurs in the anthology.
Obviously the theme of virginity and purity comes up repeatedly, and I understand why this wouldn’t sit well with a modern reader, smacking as it does of a fixation on oppressing women through control of their sexual behaviours. However the unicorn myth is an old one, and the ‘virgin attraction’ is one of its staples, so I feel that the authors here explore the mythology fairly and present the ideas in some new and refreshing perspectives.
I read Peter S. Beagle’s foreword with a little dismay. As a fan of his writing, with The Last Unicorn on my favourite books of all time list, and In Calabria and The Overneath in prominent spots on my to-be-read shelf, I was a little saddened to see him distancing himself from the perception of him as ‘the unicorn writer’ (although I do understand his reasons). I was therefore heartily gladdened to find that this didn’t stop his story, ‘My Son Heydari and the Karkadann’, from being my favourite in this collection. Unicorn man or not, Beagle has a talent for showing us the fantastical in ways we haven’t seen or thought of before.
You won’t just find fantasy in this anthology. There is sci-fi, detective noir, some horror elements, coming of age tales, allegories and even a poem. Therefore it does, for me, what every good anthology should: it provides something for everyone. Not every story may be to your personal taste, but they are all well-written and imagined, and so something should. There will always be those that merely see a grey mare, but if you’re lucky you may find your very own unicorn (story).
The moment they see the unicorn boy – the shine of his skin, the pearlescent spiral of his horn, his silken hair pale as moonlight – they want him. It’s no wonder he prefers virgins. Their uncertainty makes their plucking hands almost gentle. Some of them are even sweet. Afraid.
– A. C. Wise, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ in The Unicorn Anthology, ed. Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman
Peter S. Beagle is the internationally bestselling and much-beloved author of numerous classic fantasy novels and collections, including The Last Unicorn, A Fine & Private Place, The Overneath, The Line Between, Sleight of Hand, Summerlong, and In Calabria. Beagle is the recipient of the Hugo, Nebula, Mythopoeic, World Fantasy, and Locus awards, as well as the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. He is the editor of The Secret History of Fantasy and the co-editor of The Urban Fantasy Anthology. Beagle lives in Northern California, where he is working on too many projects to even begin to name.
World Fantasy Award-winning editor Jacob Weisman is the publisher at Tachyon Publications, which he founded in 1995. He is the series editor of Tachyon’s critically acclaimed, Hugo, Nebula, and Shirley Jackson award-winning novella series. Weisman’s anthology projects include The New Voices of Fantasy (with Peter S. Beagle), Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature, The Sword & Sorcery Anthology (with David G. Hartwell), and The Treasury of the Fantastic (with David M. Sandner). He lives in San Francisco.