Thank you to Tachyon for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Release date: April 19th, 2019
/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Published in 2019, Five SFF Short Stories (HM)
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!
If you liked The Unicorn Anthology, you might also enjoy:
- Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
- The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker