The Unicorn Anthology

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

A nice little collection of short stories starring the lovely unicorn.  Some of the stories are quite fascinating. while others leave a lot to be desired. All in all, a cool compendium of short stories collected by Peter S. Beagle, author of the greatest novel ever about a unicorn, The Last Unicorn.
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I am a sucker for unicorn stories. And with Peter Beagle on the docket, you know it's going to be a good thing. Each story is unique and so full of magic and beauty, light vs darkness, gorgeous environments and interesting characters. Well worth keeping this volume on hand for rainy days.
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A fun mix of authors leave this book with something for everyone. A stand out in my opinion is Carrie Vaighn.
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

When I was in second grade, my school class would go to the school library once a week. There was collection of short stories about unicorns that myself and another girl would race to check out first. If she got to it before me, I’d give her a good -natured scowl. But if someone from another class checked the collection out before either of us, we were both united in our thirst for revenge.

So, I was waxing nostalgic when I started this anthology, full of hope that it would be as enjoyable as the other one was. Sadly, it was not. It was ten types of terrible. The stories ranged from forgettable and a bit disappointing, to flat-out disturbing. There was one in particular that had an icky Stockholm Syndrome story line, which was incredibly upsetting.

I felt that these stories were all written with the intent to be edgy and dark. Gone was the sense of wonder and fun that I expect in anything involving unicorns. It was all death, doom, and destruction, with a bit of boredom thrown in for good measure.

While the mechanics of the stories were all solid, I was ultimately very disappointed by what the authors chose to write. I read this book and discussed it with Beth from Before We Go. Check her post out! And, maybe skip this book and look for something less disappointing.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for the review copy in exchange for an honest review

I hate saying this, but this was a disaster of a book for me. 

Peter Beagle is the master behind The Last Unicorn. It is a very evocative and beautiful story that was made into a lovely movie. This anthology of short stories is not that. 

It is soooo not that. 

That would be fine if it wasn't so hamfistedly trying to be edgy and not like The Last Unicorn. 

Most of the stories read like: 
"Look how edgy and unlike anything you have ever read about unicorns before." 
"Look at how I can destroy the magic mythos around unicorns." 
"Hey reader, screw your expectations."

All this would be fine if the majority of stories resonated and where good. A lot of them were not. Specifically, some were depressing. Some were god awful and some left me feeling gross inside. That is hard to do with an anthology about unicorns. 

Not all the stories were bad, hence the rating of two stars instead of one. The Brew was an interesting story and the story Falling of the Unicorn I loved. The latter is about an LGTBQ+ relationship that was sweet and I enjoyed the writing quite a bit. 

Hunter's Ode to Bait was awful. A hunter buys a virgin at 12-13 years old and uses her to slay unicorns for profit. In the end, the hunter falls in love with the Virgin (who is much older now thank god) and she becomes the hunter of a sort. It is all kinds of screwed up Stockholm syndrome. So much nope. The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory is sad and awful. The writing wasn't bad, but god what a terrible take on humans in general. 

For me, this anthology was a big nope. Maybe that is because my expectations were not met, and that is on me. Jodie from Witty and Sarcastic Book Club and I did this as a buddy read and I chose this book. Maybe the next book we will have more luck in our selection. 

But, wow. Seriously, wow.
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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


Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
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As a lifetime fan of Peter Beagle, I jumped at the chance to read this (even though only one of the stories was his, and I had read it before). It turned out that I had actually read the last few - My Son Heydari and the Unicorn, The Unicorn Triangle, and The Transfigured Hart. Admittedly I'm not much of a fan of these three, they were good when I first read them but I don't love them as much as some of the other unicorn stories and books I've read.

But there were a few gems in here. I liked Ghost Town, The Highest Justice, and A Thousand Flowers. The rest were kind of meh. I especially disliked the one about the unicorn horn dildo (gross - that one was up there for me with the story in another collection about a woman who sculpts dicks and has sex with the devil), and the one where the guy who buys his bait as a child then ends up with her, "taking her" against the side of a dead and bleeding unicorn (also gross). And I agree with most other reviewers who say that the stories all adhere to the tropes (virgins, etc.), nothing new is done here, and most of them barely feature unicorns at all.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this collection. Overall it's a meh dud for me. I'd much rather read actual books about unicorns, or at least something new and interesting done with the idea of unicorns.
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Not all of these tales were my cup of tea, or should I say not my cup of Unicorn Brew...But it was still an enjoyable collection from new and old/known authors. There were a few stories I would have enjoyed more reading material for. 

This collection has something for everyone: good unicorns, villainous unicorns, giant unicorns, sex, hunting, death, blood, fantasy, and other non children appropriate topics. Yes, you read that correct. This is not a collection for children who have read all the unicorn books in the kids department. 


And even though the book has already been published: thanks NetGalley and Publisher for giving me an advanced read of this book...even if I did slack on reading it pre-pub!
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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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