Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: The Hunt of the Unicorn by C.C. Humphreys

The Hunt of the Unicorn
Description: Elayne thinks the old family story that one of her ancestors stepped through a tapestry into a world of mythical beasts makes a great fireside tale. But she lives in the real world. In New York City. And she's outgrown that kind of fantasy.

Until she finds herself in front of a unicorn tapestry at the Cloisters museum and sees her initials woven into the fabric. And hears a unicorn calling to her. And slips and falls—into that other world.

Suddenly the line between fantasy and reality isn't so clear. But the danger is real enough.

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 341 pages, First Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 2011.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Is it possible to give unicorns a dark side? I've come to the conclusion that unicorns are probably the hardest sell of all magical creatures. Sure, they are right up there with rainbows and butterflies on the popularity scale for most females under the age of fourteen (or at least they used to be before Edward came along), but the mythology of unicorns is pretty simple. In the same way vampires are an embodiment of darkness, unicorns are an embodiment of purity. A unicorn is a healing creature with a thing for virgin girl companions. I guess when I ask if unicorns can have a dark side what I'm really asking is: Is there an interesting story to be found within the mythology?

Unfortunately, I'm not totally convinced. Although The Hunt of the Unicorns is a perfect example of a really great attempt the story here was just too... tame for me.

This isn't the sort of thing I would normally choose to read, but I got this book after meeting C.C. Humphreys in 2011 and have put off reading it till now. Confined to my bed I had only the books in front of me to choose from and I wanted something I knew I could read through quickly. The Hunt of the Unicorns fit the bill, so I started reading, and got incredibly bored, incredibly quickly. If I was reading this under different circumstances I can almost guarantee that I would have set it down for a looooong time before continuing, but desperate for entertainment I pressed on.

To give the author credit, he put a lot of work into creating an interesting magical world for his story to take place in. The imagination and variety of beasts that he uses was oddly fascinating and I feel he succeeded in what he was trying to achieve in that world. However, it was also very touch and go. In some places I feel he didn't take things far enough, in others you can see the development of the world getting to broad and getting in the way of the development of the characters and the plot. For me, the characters are the most important part of any story. In the Hunt of the Unicorn it was more about the world building then it should have been.

Our protagonist Elayne is a great character in concept, but not in execution. It wasn't till I finished the book that I realized that she wasn't really a character, but a story device. I had no idea of who she really was. She had plenty of motivation, but very little substance. She's sort of just a teenage girl who gets swept up in a adventure, which is fine, but I ask for a little more.

On the other hand I was happy to see that the unicorn character, Moonspill, was a character in his own right and not just a horse with a horn. He had his own motivations and of all the characters in the story he stands out as one of the more rounded. Also very noteworthy is the character of Amphisbaena. A two-headed snake with mouths like no other. Amphisbaena is a surprisingly funny character gifted with all languages of man, beast, and magical creature alike.

Overall, everything was pretty good. There wasn't anything I hated and I finished the book without many complaints. Then of course I sat down to write this review and really thought about it. I realized two things.

First off, near the beginning of the book there is a scene that is central to the unicorns role in Goloth, Land of the Fabulous Beast. The role of the unicorn is to apparently purify the water so all the animals in and around Goloth can drink from the rivers because of course the humans have f-ed it all up. Normally, I would have considered mentioning this to be a spoiler because at the time it seemed like a pretty big deal. I thought that it was going to be part of the central plot of the story, but it isn't. It actually amounts to nothing. I can understand wanting to showcase the unicorns powers, however there are quite a few moments later in the book where this water-purification thing should be brought up again, but it isn't.

Then my second problem, the big, giant, plot hole problem. Later on in the book, when talking about the unicorns, it is mentioned by Moonspill that there is a place that is far away, over mountains yonder, where his children are safe from the dangers of Goloth. In this magical world, or at least in Goloth, Land of the Fabulous Beast all creatures are hunted, hunting is what everything is all about, the book is called The Hunt of the Unicorn. So if there is a place that is safe, why don't all the creatures just leave and go there? If the forest is on fire, you leave the forest.

I will say, before I put a cap on this review turned unexpected rant, that while I was reading The Hunt of the Unicorn it was an enjoyable experience, but the more thought I put into it the more I'm disappointed. For a book that I went into with very low expectations it did pretty well! Now however, I just find myself wanting to move on.

If I were to recommend this to someone it would be to younger YA readers. If I was just coming into the YA genre and I loved adventure fantasy then this would have blown me away!

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