The Series: The Unicorn Series
Titles: Black Unicorn
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: duty, friendship, family, adventure, love, respect, confidence
The Black Unicorn Plot: It was big and beautiful and so black that it was like a hole in space, and it was completely impossible. Everybody knew there were no unicorns. Unicorns didn't belong in this world except in legends. But there it stood, radiating magical power, in the shattered wreck of the party.
Nobody knew where it had come from, or what it wanted. Not even Jaive, the sorceress, could fathom the mystery of the fabled beast. But Tanquil, Jaive's completely unmagical daughter, understood it at once. She knew why the unicorn was there.
It had come for her.
It needed her.
Yet she was the girl with no talent for magic. She could only fiddle with broken bits of machinery and make them work again.
What could she do for a unicorn?
The Gold Unicorn Plot: Journeying across different lands, the young mender Tanaquil and her familiar, a quarrelsome talking peeve, learn of the empress Veriam, who wishes to conquer from one sea to the next. Tanaquil is shocked to learn that the woman called 'Conqueror' and 'Child-Eater' is in fact her half sister, Lizra.
Remembering the powerful effect the black unicorn had on her people, Lizra has constructed a tremendous mechanical unicorn of gold as a symbol of her conquest.
The only problem is that it doesn't work - and Lizra commands Tanaquil to make the steam-powered unicorn move. Now Tanaquil must choose between assisting in brutal conquest or risking the ire of her powerful sister.
The Red Unicorn Plot: The young wanderer Tanaquil can mend anything that is broken - except her own heart. With the engagement of her beloved Honj to her sister, Empress Lizra, she returns home to her sorcerous mother - and her mother's new lover, the magician Worabex.
Caught up in their combined magic, Tanaquil and her mischievous familiar - a literal pet peeve - find themselves in a parallel world where she meets Tanakil, a mirror-image princess with murder on her mind.
With Red Unicorn, award-winning author Tanith Lee returns once again to her epic fantasy of magic, of alternate worlds both perfect and flawed, and of the enchanting unicorns that travel between them.
My Thoughts (on the whole series): What I like best about Tanith Lee is her casual world building. She has a strong story, or at least an entertaining one, and the world unfolds around it, enveloping you. It isn't a consciously constructed set with plot and characters plopped on stage; an afterthought. It is a real and breathing environment with its own logic, that unfolds just as New York or San Francisco or anywhere real would as a story progresses. Like every other book or story I've read from Lee, the Unicorn trilogy excels in world-building.
I found The Black Unicorn to be a great adventure, and a story of growing up. In the first novel Tanquil discovers mysteries, adventure, her sister and father, as well as another perfect world from which she must return. She must work hard and use what limited skills she possesses in order to set things right in her world. It is a classic-feeling adventure tale.
The Gold Unicorn was another story about making hard decisions and being forced into situations where you wouldn't want to be. Tanquil is both horrified and tranquil while her sister wages a horrible war using a gold-plated mechanic beast to slaughter people. Her sister wishes to rule every people on the globe in order to create perfection on earth, to erase hate and violence-and so attempts to violently subdue them until the unicorn pulls them all into another world. And it isn't the perfect world from the first book.
But Red Unicorn seemed rather tacked on, like she wasn't satisfied with how the love-triangle ended in the second novel. The book focuses on a third unicorn, and also a third world-this one is a parallel world with a parallel Tanquil. When she returns from this visit, she is able to make hard decisions about her life, her mother, and the man her sister is marrying.
Recommendation: I would recommend the first two novels of the trilogy highly, and the third only if the ending of the second really unnerved you.
Similar Reads: The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee, Pegasus by Robin McKinley, Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen
Lee, Tanith. The Black Unicorn. New York: TOR, 1991.
Lee, Tanith. The Gold Unicorn. New York: TOR, 1994.
Lee, Tanith. The Red Unicorn. New York: TOR, 1997.