The Unicorn Anthology

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

Even if you don't read any of the short stories, Beagle's introductory essay is just lovely on its own. The collection of stories has a lot to offer from some rock star authors and will not disappoint fantasy readers.
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I really enjoyed this one.  I would like to use some of the stories in the classroom, should I be approved for doing so by my district (they have to negotiate copyright and all that, you know).

The stories were all wildly different, which I appreciated, but it also meant that I was left with a few favorites and a few stinkers.  That's the price of diversity, though, and besides, if I wanted to read the same type of unicorn story over and over again...I guess I would.

I should mention that I am no huge fan of unicorns, either.  However, that didn't keep me from enjoying the stories in this anthology.  I primarily picked it up to read stories by Coville and Yolen, two childhood favorites, but found plenty of other stories to love.  I'll be looking up some of these other authors!

I'd also like to mention that the editing was pretty sound.  This book wasn't riddled with errors or typos like so many others on Kindle lately.
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I love anthologies that include authors I have not read before.  Short stories limit the span of time authors have to catch and hold the reader's attention.  Each author must give us the condensed version and make it good or we skip to the next one.  I did not skip any pages in this book even though there were many authors I had not read before.  The unifying theme was unicorns, so each writer had to suspend belief while still developing a story line that we would find interesting and entertaining.  The results were fantastic!  It would be very hard to pick a favorite as I found them all great reads.
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I've always liked unicorns, and in spite of all the fantasy I read I feel like I don't get to see unicorns much. This was a decent collection - some of the stories I really liked and would rate 4 or 5 stars. Several I didn't care for, and would rate 2 or 3 stars. But that is pretty much what I expect from most anthologies.

Some of the highlights for me were :
"Stampede of Light" (Marina Fitch), which has the theme of children lost in the school system and teachers who go the extra mile to help. 

"The Transfigured Hart" (Jane Yolen) about two children who find and desire to tame a unicorn.

"Homeward Bound" by Bruce Coville and "A Hunter's Ode to His Bait" by Carrie Vaughn also stood out to me.

Thanks to netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.
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Curated by Peter S. Beagle, legendary author of The Last Unicorn, The Unicorn Anthology is a collection of mostly quite short stories by some of the biggest names in fantasy today, including Garth Nix, Patricia A. McKillip, Jane Yolen and Beagle himself. There’s a huge variety here, from a sweetly charming tale of two children stumbling on something magical in the deep woods (The Transfigured Hart) to a darkly twisted story of what, frankly, I can only call the sexual abuse of a child (The Lion and the Unicorn). That one and The Maltese Unicorn are most definitely not suitable for children, and The Lion and the Unicorn could be dangerously triggering for CSA or sexual assault survivors. A Thousand Flowers skirts around the implication of bestiality (is it bestiality if the creature is mythical?)

I wouldn’t be letting a youngster obsessed with unicorns read this collection freely. Probably a third of the stories deal with very adult themes. Those warnings aside, all of the writing is stunning, evocative prose - in the case of Nancy Springer’s contribution, poetry - which can’t fail to move you. I think my favorite was Falling Off The Unicorn, in which show unicorns must be ridden and trained by virginal women or risk goring, and two young women find themselves testing just what the unicorns consider ‘cheating’ in their newfound feelings for each other.

I’m giving the collection as a whole five stars, but with the proviso that some of the stories deal with deeply triggering themes and I think it’s suitable for aware adult readers only.
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This was very meh for me. And really not at all what I was hoping for. I thought a unicorn anthology sounded fantastic, but it really fell short of my expectations.
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Like all multi-author collections, The Unicorn Anthology has its better and worse outings. Peter S. Beagle's introduction is worth the price of admission alone, in my opinion, but then I am an absolutely sucker for his chatty, anecdotal storytelling style. Several short stories I had encountered in other collections: Garth Nix's "The Highest Justice", which did not seem to be up to his usual standards; Peter S. Beagle's "My Son Heydari and the Karkadann", which is a delight, and showcases Beagle's prodigious talent for narrative voice (like I said, a sucker); and Margo Lanagan's "One Thousand Flowers" which is so beautifully florid and sick. Caitlin Kiernan's magical noir "The Maltese Unicorn" is a standout -- with an ending which will freak you out -- as is David Smed's "Survivor" about the strange effects of a unicorn tattoo on a Vietnam vet. In general I preferred the modern treatments over those in traditional fantasy settings, but stories like Jane Yolen's "The Transfigured Heart" were still quite good. All in all, a well put together anthology.
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Peter Beagle and a whole host of writers provide a plethora of unicorn short stories in this volume. In the Introduction, Peter Beagle discusses his hate/love relationship with unicorns, but also his succumbing to the story possibilities of late. Then the tales start! You have historical unicorns, fantastical, Middle Eastern unicorns, but no rainbow unicorns! My three favorite stories include "A Hunters Ode to His Bait" by Carrie Vaughn, "My Son Heydari and the Karkadann" by Peter Beagle, and "The Transfigured Hart" by Jane Yolen. Whether you like tragic stories or happy endings, you will find some of each in this very readable volume.

Thanks Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book!
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I enjoyed most of the stories in this anthology. Two fell very flat to me, but I like this take on the darker side of magic. My favorite was Garth Nix’s The Highest Justice. I like the idea of a Unicorn metting out Justice as she sees fit. Overall a quick and intriguing read!
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I grabbed this anthology because of Garth Nix's involvement. I went straight to his contribution, which is about a partially substantial unicorn who is to be called in times of great need.

There's a wicked stepmother and a corrupt king in this story. I was definitely interested in the zombie aspect. I really enjoyed how things went, and also the ending was pretty great. I received a review copy from NetGalley. It's a nice unicorn story.
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This one had several of my faves; however, I really wanted more unicorn stories. Regardless I enjoyed each story. There are a lot of hard themes/topics in this book so be warned.
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2.5/5, rounded up because there were a couple really good stories in here, and they don't deserve to get a ton of hate for the less-than-stellar ones surrounding them. 

I hate to be the one to say it, but The Unicorn Anthology simply does not do justice to the mythological awesomeness of the unicorn. I'm not saying that all the stories in it were bad--there were actually a few that were truly awesome--but as a whole, the quality was uneven, which significantly dampened the book's enjoyability.

I don't want to go analyze this story by story here, so instead, here are some quick notes:

THE GOOD:
- "Survivor" by David Smed completely blew my mind. Unlike most of the collection, which had more or less positive endings, this piece takes unicorn lore to a traumatized Vietnam vet and turns a "blessing" into something out of a horror story.
- Garth Nix's "The Highest Justice" is an elegantly simple fusion of unicorns and zombies in a more or less medieval setting, and it feels like both a complete story and a precursor to something greater--wholly satisfying on its own, but also sitting as a nice setup for future work, should he choose to revisit this world.
- In "The Transfigured Hart," Jane Yolen brings a truly childlike delight to the topic of unicorns, with characters that are kids who actually feel like kids. It is magical and heartwarming and I really wish the collection had more stories with actual kids in them...
- Of course, Peter S. Beagle's contribution to the collection is a good deal of fun...but he deliberately focuses on beastly unicorns by another name, in a non-European country, resulting in a clever inversion of the typical unicorn tropes

THE BAD
*Note: I'm not going to name specific stories here, since some of these are spoilers
- So many stories are preoccupied with virginity. I get that it's an integral part of unicorn mythos, but in a contemporary collection, there is so much room to explore what that does or doesn't mean (since, after all, virginity is a social construct)...and this collection fell flat, looking mostly at classic definitions. In fact, one story suggests that lesbian sex doesn't count as losing one's virginity, which has some unpleasant implications, I think (though the characters themselves were very concerned, saying that it mattered a lot to them and it should to a unicorn as well)
- The writing was kind of...unimpressive in several of the stories. They read like something out of an early fiction workshop, with poor development of characters and/or plots that make exactly zero sense.

THE UGLY:
- A girl falls in love with a man who literally bought her as a child so he could use her virginity to catch unicorns. He's so much older, and he freaking OWNS HER. That is beyond messed up.
- "A Thousand Flowers." The story had such potential--a unicorn actually rapes a princess (inversion of tropes? Yes, please!), and a man is framed for it--but the rest of the story just falls apart. It switches perspectives so many times, the ending makes no sense, and it is honestly a hot mess.
- A dildo made out of a unicorn horn. Yes, that is literally a crucial part of one of the stories, and I kind of hate it. And then, one woman uses it as a strap-on to rape another woman. What the actual fuck??

Overall, an unimpressive collection, but with a few gems hidden in the rubble. If you're a fan of dark, gritty fantasy, you might enjoy this more than I did, and if nothing else, fantasy fans should definitely check out the few stories I mentioned under "The Good." But as a whole, I feel really let down; there are so many big themes to explore with unicorns (innocence, righteousness, beauty, hidden danger...), but The Unicorn Anthology just didn't deliver.

TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNINGS: rape, sexual assault, violence toward children and animals, Stockholm Syndrome

I was provided with an eARC of this book by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This has not impacted my review in any way.
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I was incredibly disappointed in this collection.  When I pick up an anthology, I do not expect to love every story.  I am picking up a mixed bag of authors to expose myself to different works and see if there might be an author I have been missing.  

Unicorns are very popular creatures right now, and I know very little of their lore or tales throughout time.  I thought this anthology would be a great way to see where the humble unicorn has been.  Plus, there are some serious powerhouse authors gathered here and it opens with such a promising introduction.  

The first story starts to give me pause into how this anthology is going to turn out.  Story two kept the down slide continuing.  I couldn't even finish reading the third story.  Story four was dark, but I finished it.  The ending sentence made me truly wonder if there was really any hope for this anthology having anything good.  

Then I read story five, Ghost Town by Jack Haldeman II from 1992.  I loved it.  It was the gem I was looking for, a new author to check out.

Story six was some kind of modern folktale that got a little confusing and I just skimmed through it.  Never made it through story seven either.  Story eight was another dark and sad version of unicorns.  

Story nine, The Highest Justice by Garth Nix, brought me in touch with a prodigious fantasy author I had been wondering about.  His writing tone was one I think I could enjoy and will be interested in trying out some of his full novels.

Story ten through twelve went back to the dark and disturbing. 

I had lost all hope of this anthology being any good.  Then I reached Unicorn Triangle by Patricia McKillip and My Son Heydari and the Karkadann by Peter S. Beagle.  The two powerhouse authors.  

Even though McKillip's writing can be haunting and sad, she always has a brilliance and poignancy.  Good is always trying to shine through the darkness.  And Beagle's eastern look at the unicorn was just amazing.  I'm so glad that I decided to push through for those two.

Then I reached another unknown-to-me author, Jane Yolen, and her tale The Transfigured Hart.  A tender coming of age story that was excellently told and beautiful for its shortness.

For creatures that are supposed to be about purity, this anthology was disturbing.  I was very disappointed to have to skip complete stories and skim through others.  Most of the stories were just down right grotesque and had atrocious language and themes.  The four stories I did enjoy, I'm still wondering if the whole was worth the sum of its parts.
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Average rating: 3.7 stars (rounded to 4)

A great variety of unicorn stories, some that could still be read to children, and some decidedly adult ones. Two of the stories have queer women as their protagonists, and one of them has a gay male side character and also mentions the severity of the AIDS crisis. I'm used to anthologies like this not really acknowledging queer people at all, so that was nice.

I expected some plotlines about virgins and unicorns, because that's a big part of unicorn stories, but some of the stories took the virginity = purity thing to uncomfortable extremes. In several of the stories, even kissing someone, or just HEARING too much about marriage can stain a virgin's "purity". I know that's the traditional unicorn story, but in a fresh new anthology that has "not just for virgins anymore" in the description, I really expected more subversion of this trope.

I much preferred stories like Ghost Town, where the purity in question is more about moral purity and pureness of the heart.

Some stories have really interesting worldbuilding: for example, in Falling off the Unicorn, only virgins can ride unicorns, so competitive riders are heavily infantilised. They have to be short, they have to be girly, even when they are teens or adults, they aren't allowed to use bad words, etc. Thankfully, this is shown to be just as toxic as it sounds.

However, at one point the same story implies that having lesbian sex doesn't count. In the end, it felt more like they were trying to say that only boys stain girls (because even kissing a boy stains you, but sex with a girl doesn't), but yeah, I'm not a fan of the implications there, and it wasn't really clear what the authors wanted with it. 

My lowest rated story in the anthology is A Hunter's Ode to His Bait, where a hunter buys a twelve-year-old girl from her mother to help him lure unicorns. They work together for years, and sure, the girl is of age when they start a relationship, but it reaaaaally felt like the guy was grooming her there.

My absolute favourite was Stampede of Light, which is about lonely children and the teachers who don't let them get lost.

Individual ratings:

The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory by Carlos Hernandez: 4.5 stars
The Brew by Karen Joy Fowler: 4.5 stars
Falling Off the Unicorn by David D. Levine and Sarah A. Mueller: 4.5 stars
A Hunter's Ode to His Bait by Carrie Vaughn: 2 stars
A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan: 3 stars (rape/dubious consent)
The Maltese Unicorn by Caitlín R. Kiernan: 3 stars (rape/dubious consent)
Stampede of Light by Marina Fitch: 5 stars
Ghost Town by Jack C. Haldeman II: 5 stars
The Highest Justice by Garth Nix: 4 stars
The Lion and the Unicorn by A.C. Wise: 3 stars
Survivor by Dave Smeds: 4 stars
Homeward Bound by Bruce Coville: 3.5 stars
Unicorn Triangle by Patricia A. McKillip: 3 stars
My Son Heydari and the Karkadann by Peter S. Beagle: 3 stars
The Transfigured Hart by Jane Yolen: 3.5 stars
Unicorn Series by Nancy Springer: 4 stars
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The Unicorns Chronicles by Bruce Coville is the series that got me into reading as a kid so I knew when I saw his name I had to read this book, not to mention all of the other heavy hitters on the author list. While not all the stories were my cup of tea overall this is a great collection of stories and I would recommend to anyone interested in a bit more of a grown up take on Unicorns. I will definitely be picking up a hard cover copy to add to my collection. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for allowing me to review a copy of The Unicorn Anthology in exchange for my honest opinion.
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The Unicorn Anthology takes a gritty approach to unicorns. 

By exploring the people whose lives are touched by unicorns, the authors explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the human condition. In a way, this anthology desecrates what readers may know and love about unicorns from their youths. In another way, it reimagines the unicorn, giving the myths new life and reminding us that not all is good and beautiful in our world.

While I appreciate the creativity of the authors in their reimagining of the unicorn, most of these stories didn't sit well with me because of the mature content. Readers who like darker, more gritty fantasy stories will enjoy this more.

Examples of what to expect: Hunters and poachers who view unicorns as a commodity or as beasts to be feared. Unicorns as show beasts who attack unpure maidens that attempt to ride them. Unicorns that one cannot see unless certain conditions are met.

Content warning: mature, sordid content.
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I don't usually read anthologies, but since it was unicorns and since it had a story by Peter S Beagle I couldn't not check it out. Overall it was a pretty good read.

Anthologies are difficult to review since some stories are better than others, but taking that into account I'll give it an overall 4 stars.
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A well chosen collection with some really terrific stories among them, something for all different tastes. Really interesting to see how consistent unicorn lore is, yet how many different interpretations there are here. In a college classroom it could be used effectively to show different treatments of the same subject, different writing styles, experiments with deconstructing literary tropes and so on.
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I guess if you were to ask people who'd be the best choice to be editor of an anthology of Unicorn related short stories, few would begrudge Peter S. Beagle that position.

Varied in tone and genre (varying sub-genres of fantasy, horror, noir, etc), like any good short story collection should be, I found this anthology very satisfying. You get all manner of stories involving unicorns, some a bit more magical than others, but all pretty interesting.

You get some big names here, both old masters of their craft and younger authors. Might be a little too much unicorn for some people, so maybe you can read it in parallel to another book in order if you're not so much into the mythic horned horses (who except young girls is?), but all in all it's a pretty good anthology.
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I really wanted to love this anthology, there were a lot of authors I really enjoy included. However, it fell short. VERY short. 
It's understandable for someone to not love every story in an anthology, they are a collection of stories aimed at variety with a common theme. I just couldn't find more than one that I really enjoyed. They were all decent, but none of them shined above the others the way one or two usually do. 
The title is a bit misleading. Unicorns are not the star of most of these stories. They are simply side characters or background noise, if I'm honest. I'm just so incredibly disappointed in the collection. It's no fault of the writing as the writing is good, but  most of these stories have been in previous anthologies, but they should have stayed there. There is not enough content to really be called "unicorn" centric. 

This anthology earned a 3/5 star rating for me. 
***This eGalley was provided via NetGalley by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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