Book Review: The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle, 4 stars)

I read this book, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, as part of an assignment from a Goodreads reading group. I’d read it before, many years ago, but I didn’t remember a thing from the novel, which really isn’t a good sign. The novel tells the story of the last unicorn who lives a life of ease as a solitary immortal creature in her woods until one day she overhears two woodmen discussing the disappearance of all the unicorns as they travel through the woods. She cannot believe that she is the last of the unicorns and so goes on a quest to find the others.

 

Soon, however, she is captured by a witch and her traveling band of entertaining circus sights: a lion that appears to be a manticore, a dog that appears to be Cerberus, and a few other illusions like that. But she’s got two real amazing creatures: one hideous harpy, and the ever elusive unicorn who she managed to capture while sleeping. Schmendrick the magician, one of the witch’s lackeys, helps the unicorn escape. The witch and her other henchman are killed and the unicorn now has a traveling companion: Schmendrick. After a few more brief adventures, they pick up another traveling companion: Molly Grue. By this time they’ve learned that the legend is that the unicorns were driven into the sea by the Red Bull. The Red Bull is a mystical beast that is under the authority of the wicked King Haggard who lives in a cursed castle in a cursed land. So, the last unicorn heads off in search of King Haggard, his castle, and the Red Bull. Can the last unicorn stand and face the Red Bull, the beast that has systematically all but eradicated her brethren? Find out and read the book. I’ll tell you no more.

 

Strengths: the prose was excellent. Perhaps, too excellent. A few times I caught the author rhyming dialogue and I thought that was inappropriate. Still, good prose helps a story a lot. The characters were reasonably well-developed: they each had their own little quirks. I liked the unicorn up until she fell in love. Actually, that’s not true. I liked her up until the point she turned tail and ran from the Red Bull and was so easily cowed by the creature. I just wish my heroes were more heroic, even if they are unicorns. Weaknesses: first would be the cowardice of all the unicorns who preceded her. The Red Bull took them one at a time with little fight. Second, it took me a while to get into the story. I read it mostly for the reading group, and the first half of the book did not really appeal to me story-wise. It just seemed sort of blaahh. But it picked up at the end and everything was resolved to my satisfaction.

 

I’ll give Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn three and a half, or maybe even four stars, out of five.

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