When we think of unicorns, I think we often forget the two more “vulgar” concepts they are linked to: sex and violence. We hunt the unicorn for its horn. We kill it, imposing our mastery over the innocent. Unicorns will only accept the hand of a virgin – by opposing sex, they become a symbol of it; this is particularly true given the somewhat phallic nature of the horn.
If you’re coming in to this anthology expecting it to be filled with glitter and happiness, I have some bad news: that’s definitely not what you’ll be getting. However, if you’re hoping instead for a much more adult look at what the unicorn has historically symbolized, you will be in for a real treat. Peter S. Beagle (author of The Last Unicorn) and Weisman (founder of Tachyon Publications) have put together an anthology that showcases every aspect of the unicorn, all the way from adorable friendship and coming of age right on over to joy of mastering and destroying innocence. I found it damn impressive and fascinating to read – I’ll confess, I had anticipated a bit more glitter and happiness than what I found between these pages, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
I think my favorite in the collection was “A Hunter’s Ode to His Bait” by Carrie Vaughn. Vaughn’s story features not only gorgeous prose, but also a protagonist unusual by unicorn story standards: a young maiden who is an active participant in the unicorn hunt. She wants the kill just as badly as does the man using her as bait; she craves the challenge, the domination, the thrill of using her desirability to lure in the beast.
Her feet and legs were caked with mud, the hem of her gown black with the stuff, even though she held it off the ground. She was wet as a drowned kitten, but smiling and shining, moving a slow dance like she was born to this damp world – as innocent as the rain. Rain which gave life, and which flooded and drowned. This, he thought, was why men paid more for virgins.
The old unicorn was also aroused.
She had him then.
I had shivers reading this. What an amazing scene – using innocence intentionally in seduction and turning the unicorn trope right on its head.
Also worth a mention is “Falling off the Unicorn” by David D. Levine and Sara A Mueller. This was a surprisingly adorable coming of age story featuring the cutest LGBT romance you can imagine. I had such a good time reading it and rooting for our young protagonists! Many of the stories had LGBT themes, but this one, I think, did it best. That said, “The Brew” also deserves an honorable mention, if only for this quote:
“It was just so hard to put the two lives together. At the time I felt that the first life was just a lie. I felt that everyone who loved me had been lied to. But now – being gay seems to be all I am sometimes. Now sometimes I want someplace where I can get away from it. Someplace where I’m just Bobby again.”
This was such an interesting and relatable take on being part of a minority. While I personally am not, this is a sentiment I’ve absolutely heard echoed by many of my openly LGBT+ friends. In the current out and proud climate, it’s easy to lose yourself by trying to put this one small piece of you forward all the time.
I could easily go on and on about every story in this anthology; there wasn’t a single dud amongst them, and I have great things to say about every page. Gorgeous prose for gorgeous unicorns, surprising violence and sexuality, and trope reversal abound. I strongly recommend this to anyone, and perhaps especially to those who think they’re not a fan of unicorns!
Thank you to Tachyon for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
About the Editors
Peter Soyer Beagle (born April 20, 1939) is an American fantasist and author of novels, nonfiction, and screenplays. He is also a talented guitarist and folk singer. He wrote his first novel, A Fine and Private Place , when he was only 19 years old. Today he is best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, which routinely polls as one of the top ten fantasy novels of all time, and at least two of his other books (A Fine and Private Place and I See By My Outfit) are considered modern classics.
Jacob Weisman is the World Fantasy Award-winning editor and publisher at Tachyon Publications, which he founded in 1995. He edits many of Tachyon’s titles, and is the series editor of Tachyon’s Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Shirley Jackson Award-winning novella line. His writing has appeared in The Nation, Realms of Fantasy, the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Seattle Weekly, and The Cooper Point Journal. Jacob co-authored the novella Mingus Fingers (Fairwood Press), and is rumored to be hard at work on his own first novel. Learn more about him at https://youtu.be/zDMFJGQ8-aA.