Overall Rating of the Anthology: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆
Unicorns have fascinated people for generations. At once the epitome of purity, they are also dangerous. Their horns contain stronger magic than anything else. A unicorn’s horn can cure any illness, warn of any poison. And it is very, very difficult to get. They cannot be caught, they will kill with their horns, they can only be tamed by innocent girls.
This anthology is all about these creatures. Collected by Peter S. Beagle, they all take different looks at these mythical creatures.
1) The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory – Carlos Hernandez
Scientists have accidentally opened a small tear in the fabric of the universe, through which unicorns came into our world. Now, they have to be protected from those that want their horns.
It was an interesting take on unicorns as something from a parallel universe. I liked the science side to it, combined with the superstition of humans that makes poachers hunt them.
2) The Brew – Karen Joy Fowler
Two kids break into the house of their very old, usually drunk neighbour. What they find is a story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and whisky laced with unicorn horn.
Whisky laced with unicorn horn sounds like a really great idea. But the story didn’t live up to it for me.
3) Falling Off the Unicorn – David D. Levine and Sara A. Mueller
Misty is a unicorn rider. She is close to winning the nationals, where virgin riders like her compete in different disciplines. But is winning it really her dream, or more that of her mother?
I liked this one. The idea of riding unicorns, competing with them in tournaments. I always found the whole virginity-angle in unicorn lore a bit uncomfortable, but it is presented okay in this story. It just runs with it: the unicorns are jealously protective of their riders. And they are still dangerous.
4) A Hunter’s Ode to His Bait – Carrie Vaughn
Duncan buys himself a young virgin, Eleanor, to hunt unicorns. Their horns fetch outrageous prices, but for him – and soon for Eleanor, it is about more than the money. It is about the hunt itself.
Another story that takes the virginity angle. But here it is more. In order to lure the unicorns to them, girls need to be innocent in more than a sexual way. Duncan struggles to keep Eleanor away from the world – and his own feelings for her.
5) Ghost Town – Jack C. Haldemann II
Conman Mark Rogers finds himself stranded in the desert in the middle of nowhere, when he meets a strange woman, Jolene, who shows him his true self.
It’s a bit much with the moral angle to be honest, but I liked the story overall, mostly because of Mark’s narration.
6) A Thousand Flowers – Margo Lanagan
A villager is led by a unicorn deep into the woods, where he finds the queen’s daughter, her dress torn and tattered. Soon he is arrested for having slept with the princess. But the truth is even stranger.
Well, what can I say about this story? The prose is way too purple for my taste.
Oh and yeah, the unicorn is the father of the princess’ babe. The unicorn. Which is a horse. Had sex with the princess. Sorry, but just… no. No, no, no.
7) The Maltese Unicorn – Caitlín R. Kiernan
Natalie has a gift for finding things that don’t want to be found. It is how she finds herself in the employ of a demonic madam. All goes well until Ellen Andrews walks into her shop and tasks her with retrieving something.
I liked the tone of the story. I liked Natalie and Ellen. When it turns out the thing she wants retrieved is a dildo made out of a unicorn horn… well that was definitely weird. Really weird. Who thinks of something like that? I went with it for the story’s sake. What I didn’t like however, was the ending. It felt too abrupt.
8) Stampede of Light – Marina Fitch
There’s a woman at the edge of the playground. Each time a child goes to her, it disappears and noone remembers they ever existed. There is only one teacher who can see her and is determined that she doesn’t take another child.
Creepy story, a totally different take on the whole unicorn thing.
9) The Highest Justice – Garth Nix
The Queen has been murdered. The young princess Jess summons the kingdon’s protector, Elibet the unicorn, to bring her back to life. Together, they make their way to the hut of the murderer, to dispense justice.
A short and fun story. I liked the zombie queen. I liked how compact and rounded the story was.
10) The Lion and the Unicorn – A.C. Wise
A unicorn boy is held chained in a strange prison. He evokes desire in all who see him, who take him without mercy. It is his life, there is no way to escape. Until a lion secretly visits his chamber.
This was a good story. Sad, because the boy is chained and raped repeatedly. But the way it is written is nice, like a fairy tale.
11) Survivor – Dave Smeds
Troy is only nineteen when, on a visit home from the front in Vietnam, he gets the tattoo of a unicorn over his heart. It’s a tattoo unlike any other, for it protects him from harm. And each person that dies when he should have, takes up residence in him, coming out from time to time.
I liked this story and the fact that until the end, you don’t know if the tattoo has true power or if Troy is simple unhinged.
12) Unicorn Series – Nancy Springer
This one’s not a short story but a poem. It’s not really my cup of tea.
An interesting mix of stories. Some were really, really weird. But overall, a good anthology.