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A Plague of Unicorns by Jane Yolen

A Plague of Unicorns

by Jane Yolen

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I loved the magic, mystery, and innocence of this book. I was a little confused at the background story in the beginning, but once I met Young James and his family further in, I understood the timeline and the reason for it. As an adult I would have loved to learn more about the unicorns and more about how the "plague" was tamed (and the Unicorn-tamer, too), yet I liked the mystery around that particular character. IN all, I think this is a good read for children who enjoy fantasy. ( )
  Dmtcer | May 4, 2016 |
2.5 stars. This review is also available on my blog, Read Till Dawn.

I saw this on Booklook Bloggers and snapped it up, because it looked cute and fun and just my little sister's speed. I read it in one sitting, which took about a hour and a half, and thought it was largely just that: cute and fun and the kind of book my sister will like. It's got some great historical info mixed in with the usual fantasy fun. You can tell Yolen did her research on the time period before departing from actual history. My favorite nod to the past is the poem James and his sister come up with to remember the queens of England:

Tilda, Jane, Mary, Lizzy,
They all make me very dizzy.

I'm not exactly sure who "Tilda" is, but Jane is the often-overlooked three day queen who "ruled" before Bloody Mary (the "Mary" in the poem), and "Lizzy" is, of course, Mary's sister Queen Elizabeth I. I'm a bit of a history geek, so I thought it was fun seeing the book's references to actual history.

That said, this book has some major pacing issues. Literally the first half of the book focuses on world-building and backstory and character introductions. Those are all wonderful, necessary things to have in any engaging book - but this was the focus of the first half of the book. And that left only half of the (rather short) book to tell the actual events of the story.

And here we run into the next problem. Too many things happen in too few pages. We've got James' relationships with his sister, his mother, his uncle, and his absent father. We've got James' insecurities about being the next duke. We've got a rather (too) long bit where James is traveling to the Abbey. We've got the lukewarm welcome James receives from the boys living in the Abbey. We've got Brother Luke's lessons on caligraphy, with a bit of Latin thrown in. Then, of course, we've got the unicorns themselves and the long string of "heroes" who come to drive them away and inevitably fail. Which are important? Which are not? Who knows? There are too many characters and too many plotlines for a book this size.

Reallly, that's the issue. The book should have been longer. You could tell Yolen had a longer story to tell than she had pages to tell it with, and so she wound up spending the whole book setting up this wonderful premise and showing off her research of the era, then jumbling on a quick-finish ending last-minute when she realized she didn't have room to bring everything to fruition. I would have loved this book so much if she had made it longer and taken the time to flesh everything out. I would have called it a great kids book if she had snipped a bunch of the side plots, and evened up the pacing. As it is, all I can say is that it's a cute book with a great premise which will probably make kids blind to the pacing issues. Older readers will have a harder time ignoring all the "could have been"s.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  Jaina_Rose | Mar 1, 2016 |
This story reminded me a lot of fairy-tale inspired books that I read as a child. It's clever, not at all condescending, and has an old-fashioned charm - mixed with a few modern twists.

The monks of a certain monastery have long been resigned to the fact that once every year, they're visited by a migrating herd of unicorns that ravenously chomp up all their golden apples. After all, they've got plenty of red and green apples to use for snacking and baking.

However, when a new abbot arrives, with a special recipe for making cider from golden apples, he's determined that things will change. Heroic (literally) efforts are expended toward saving the apples from the pesky unicorns - all in vain.

Meanwhile an annoyingly curious young ducal heir has used up nearly all the patience the residents of his family's castle have to spare. His older sister, Alexandria, is the only one who still bothers to answer his incessant questions. When he's sent to study at the monastery, a solution to the plague of unicorns may finally present itself...

The short novel is a quick read. It's aimed at middle-grade readers, but I felt that the writing style and the humor is such that it will be enjoyed equally by fantasy and fairy tale fans of all ages.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Zonderkids for the opportunity to read this book. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0310746485, Hardcover)

Young James, an earl’s son, is a bit bothersome and always asking the oddest questions. In despair—the last of James’ tutors having quit—his mother sends him off to be educated at Cranford Abbey. She feels the strict regimen will do him a world of good. But Cranford Abbey has its own problems. It has been falling into disrepair. The newly appointed Abbot Aelian takes it upon himself to save the abbey with the use of his secret weapon: a recipe for golden apple cider passed down in his family for many generations. He believes that by making and selling the cider, the monks will raise necessary funds to restore the abbey to its former glory. Abbot Aelian has everything he needs—almost. One obstacle stands in his way, unicorns that happen to feast specifically on the golden apples. Abbot Aelian and his men must fight off the unicorns to make the cider. He and the monks try to form a battalion to fight off the beasts; next they import heroes to fight for them. But the heroes run off, monks are injured, and a herd of ravenous unicorns continue munching. After no success, the abbot finally calls upon the most unlikely of heroes, one suggested by no other than young James. That hero is small and unprepossessing but possesses the skill to tame the beasts. Though wildly skeptical, Abbot Aelian must risk everything and believe in this recommended stranger or risk the fall of Cranford Abbey.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:37 -0400)

James, an earl's son and bothersome child, may hold the key to saving Cranford Abbey, a dilapidated school where he is sent to be educated, that newly-appointed Abbot Aelian thinks can be saved if he can make cider from the golden apples now being eaten by ravenous unicorns.… (more)

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