“The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle (Roc, 2011)

Last Unicorn
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Every once in a while a book will come along and get written and be released to the world and become something so special and unique that it will stand the tests of time, whether it was published last year, or fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago.  In the magical fairytale style of The Princess Bride, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is certainly one of those ethereal books that generation after generation will read and enjoy for years to come.

“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night.”  What she doesn’t know, but eventually discovers is that she is the last unicorn on earth.  These magical beasts once roamed free and helped and healed those around them, but now she is the only one left.  And even though she is old, she is not very wise and soon finds herself a member of Mummy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival with no chance of escape.  But then a most unique individual comes along, named Schmendrick the Magician, whose magical powers work most infrequently, and only when he really needs them to; and he frees the last unicorn.  Molly Grue also joins the unusual travelers, who still has faith in fables and believes in legends, even though she has met a suspicious Robin Hood character and his band of overly-merry men.  They journey far and wide across the lands, have many adventures in search of the other unicorns, and end up at the withered castle of King Haggard, where the Red Bull lies in wait for the last unicorn.

Many complimentary words can be said about this book, but still they will not do it complete justice, as it just transcends so many levels and ages, making us all, perhaps just for a moment, believe in these wondrous beasts.  For the new anniversary edition, a quote on the front of the book from Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind, says it best: “The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read.  You need to read it.  If you’ve already read it, you need to read it again.”

Originally written on February 13, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Warriors” edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (Tor, 2010)

Warriors
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When you purchase  a copy of Warriors, even if you don’t get around to reading it right away, with its mighty girth it can serve a number of alternate uses such as a doorstop, a paperweight, a bookend, or anything else you can use a large brick-shaped object for; it is after all a 700+ page hardcover.  But once you start reading this epic anthology of great storytelling, you won’t want to use it for anything else until you get to that last page.

In an interview (coming in August), editor Gardner Dozois reveals that the anthology was mainly George R. R. Martin’s idea, to request a specific group of authors to write a story about “warriors through the ages,” from a variety of different genres.  The result is a massive anthology that features bestselling authors such as Diana Gabaldon, Robin Hobb, Peter S. Beagle, Steven Saylor, S. M. Stirling and Robert Silverberg; both Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin also have stories featured in this collection.

The anthology begins with a story from Cecilia Holland, entitled “The King of Norway,” revealing the tough world of the Vikings.  There are some fantasy stories about classic warriors, but also fiction stories about people being warriors in different ways.  One of the most unusual stories comes from James Rollins in “The Pit,” told from the viewpoint of a dog who has gone through a terrible life, kidnapped as a puppy and driven to madness and anger to be a fighting dog with the goal of killing its fellow kind and winning its master lots of money; but then it is rescued and doesn’t know if it can have a normal life again, until its master comes back to haunt its life.

The best and most interesting story of the collection, without a doubt, comes from an unlikely author in Carrie Vaughan with “The Girls from Avenger.”  This is the story of the women of World War II that little is known about: the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs.  They were never allowed to fight in combat, but they were a necessary part of the military machine in flying planes to specific bases, testing and making sure they were all working fine.  In this story a friend of a close group of WASPs dies under strange circumstances, while the military does everything it can to cover it up and pretend it didn’t happen; Em is not going to let that happen, and is going to do everything she can to get to the bottom of why one of her good friends is now dead.

Whatever type of story you’re looking for, you will find it in this wonderful collection.  The idea of the warrior has many different meanings, and with the great variety of talented authors featured in Warriors, they all have a very unique story to tell.

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Originally written on June 28 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.