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Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee

Black Unicorn (1991)

by Tanith Lee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Unicorn Trilogy (1), Dragonflight Series

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
677814,123 (3.74)18
  1. 10
    Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Biting the Sun and the Unicorn trilogy share a desert setting, a young female (or predominantly female, at least) protagonist, and Lee's lush, gorgeous prose.
  2. 10
    Mirrormask [2005 film] by Dave McKean (MyriadBooks)
    MyriadBooks: "Mother, you must let me go." "No," said Jaive. And with tiger's eyes she smiled on her daughter.
  3. 00
    Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: For the bones of mystical creatures.
  4. 00
    The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee (MyriadBooks)

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» See also 18 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
  LeaSilhol | Sep 1, 2015 |
This was a quick read, without the usual fantastic details that Tanith's books usually contain, but I liked it all the same. There were fantastic elements, but focus was mainly on the journey of Tanaquil, the teenage daughter of a sorceress. She's bored in her mother's palace, ignored, friendless, and a dissapointment to her mother because she's not a sorceress. She does have the power to mend things, however, and when she puts together the beautiful bones of a unicorn, it comes to life and leads her from her mother's palace. From there she journeys to a new city with her pet peeve (a talking pet squirrel-cat-thing).
I felt there could have been more character development, but given the lenght of the story (only about 130 pages), I was happy. The plot was good and the pace moved along nicely. I have the other two books in the series, and will be reading those soon. ( )
  MillieHennessy | Jul 26, 2015 |
This is my first book by Tanith Lee, I'm pretty sure, which surprised me. I've always known the name, always known that people thought I'd be interested, and I'm sure I have actually bought some Tanith Lee books before, but I'm pretty sure that this is the first I've read. I was interested, but not really absorbed -- Tanaquil is okay, but the relationship with her mother, even the stranding in the desert, felt fairly average. There's not much explanation of the world -- which in some ways, I prefer: at least Tanith Lee didn't give me a massive spiel about the world, cramming it too full with information. It's a slim book, reads fast, but it wasn't tipping above 'okay' for me.

What changed my mind and earned it four stars was the ending -- not so much anything Tanaquil did, or the major events of the plot, but the fact that in the perfect world, Tanaquil and the peeve corrupt everything. And not just that on its own, but the way that Tanaquil reacts: the betrayed feeling, the anger. Some writers might have made her grateful just to have witnessed it or whatever, but Lee imagines what it would be like to be denied that, and I like the way Tanaquil deals with it.

Plot-wise, it wasn't that special, and I'm not sure I want to read the other books in the series. But those scenes, those moments, did speak to me. ( )
1 vote shanaqui | Nov 23, 2014 |
Some might question why I would rate this book Four out of Five Stars, and I will back up my reasoning for this by stating that at first read, it may not seem like it's worth such a rating. The beginning all the way through until nearly the very end is full of chaotic, annoying, even frustrating situations. There are so many things that are all over the place, and that go wrong or annoy the heck out of you in this book, or that make no sense in any logical way possible. Plus the people, with the exception of--ironically--Gork, in my opinion, are all for the most part things to just get in the way and muddle everything up even more. It can be a really annoying read because the entire mood of the book is wrought with high-tension and a very tangible line of ire. Every second you can sense an aggression in the characters or situations the story leads you through. And when there's no anger, you're still liable to grit your teeth and try to muscle your way through. Even the way the story reads adds to this, and since this is the only book I've read by Tanith Lee, I'm not sure if this is her writing style, or if she did it on purpose. However, I'm leaning towards the second one for a reason that I will explain shortly. The book for the most part, to sum it up, comes off as a very terse, very aggravating read. There's little sense in it, and the situations you read about are hard to accept, because they're either annoying or revolting or insulting enough to make any sensible person refuse to.

...and then you get to the part of the book's namesake: The Unicorn. It's not your normal fantasy book, because instead of being filled with awe-inspiring magical lands and deeds and High Magic, and blah blah blah, etc.~ You have the world of chaos I described to you above. Indeed, when you first are introduced to the unicorn in the book, it's not a fussy, pretty-pet-me pony-type like you expect, with posies in its hair and all that girly mush (no offense, gals; I like my girly things every so often too~) you expect from what you've heard of unicorns. No, instead you have this powerful, otherworldly, fearsome creature more like a monster than some frilly confection of a girl's imagination. This creature alone strikes an elaborate and shadowy feeling of magic throughout the story, casting a streak of vivid life on the obscenity of the contrived world around it. It's so alien in the scenario of this book that it immediately catches you, and refuses to let you go. You read on for pages wondering where it went, when it'll appear again, what it wants and where it's taking you.

Then you find out. You find out everything. But it doesn't prepare you for the thrilling, beautiful concept that this book throws at you. It's like a fraction's glimpse into something you never expected, and yet makes so much...sense! And just as soon as you've got it, you get thrown yet another curve. And it's almost too much to bear, but through it, the main character, Tanaquil, finds a strength that's no longer grim, no longer stumbling or bitter. She grows in a way that you almost don't notice until at the very end of the book you realize you're seeing someone else talking, and that all the smarts and sarcasm she had before have now gone through possibly the worst and most beautiful fire ever. Knowing what she had to turn her back on would wrench anyone's heart right into their throat, because it's cruel and wonderful, sad and yet has to be the way it ended. And because of that, you realize her mind and her heart have been cured by the flames of that terrible trial, and she's grown out of that stubborn, vengeful child she was at the beginning of the book.

Oh, one other character I must talk about. The Peeve. It's actually the name of a race of little animals with thick, curly fur that live in the desert and like to burrow. I always imagined them as a cross between these really fuzzy doggies, with all their snuffling and snorting, and bone-digging and such. *Laughs* There's one in this book, and it doesn't have a name throughout the entire thing, so while Tanaquil just talks to it directly, the author addresses it "the peeve" and so on. But. IT IS SOOOOOO CUTE. Seriously! I'm a big animal lover, and I've read a TON of fantasy books with different types of animals in them, old and new species alike. But this one... is just... EPIC!!! I am seriously in jaw-dropping, fangirly-squeeing, "I MUST HAVE ONE NOW!!!!!" love with the Peeves! XD They are flippin' hilarious and undeniably cute!!
In the end, the greatness of this book is in its ending, when you find out not just what the unicorn wanted Tanaquil to do, but also what happens when Tanaquil follows it into where it leads her. And I'm being very specific here. There is something amazing that happens, but to avoid spoiling the book, I don't want to say it. However, there's something that happens when Tanaquil's in that last place the unicorn leads her to, and when she turns around and looks back behind her, and sees what happened because of the fact that she crossed that threshold...the words that she says to that place, and the way it accepts her words...that's one of the most powerful scenes in the entire book. The power of what she decided, and what she said there in that place, is profound. It's part of the choice she makes, on the very last page or two of the book, when she tells the peeve what she wants to do now. What she's going to do. All the acrid, vicious, aggressiveness of her world and ours is made up for by those last parts of the book. It makes every bad and ireful thing worth it; makes the abrupt, wild, chaotic journey seem like the smallest price to have paid for what she's learned and decided to do now. And I can honestly say it's one of the best endings to a book I've ever read. It's got such hope, maybe a foolish, thin hope, but powerful and unstoppable for someone who saw just what it could be like if it was really accomplished.

*Smiles* You won't know the full meaning of it until you've read this. Trust me, all the annoyances and stupidity and disgust is worth it for the end. It's one of those books, and definitely one of those experiences. It's just so worth it. If you're a fantasy or magic lover at all, you have to give this book a shot. It's probably not the typical magical fairytale you're used to, but it's a great story for feeding the mind with rich, amazing ideas. Bringing in my own personal experience, this is one of the five or six books I read out of hundreds when I was in 7th Grade that always stuck with me. And being a huge Fantasy reader during that time, almost all of them were the same genre as this book. Yet this was one of the very few that I still remember and keep close to my heart even now, nearly ten years later. It has influenced a great deal of my own writing over the years, until it's become a permanent staple of my imagination. *Smiles warmly* And that is the highest compliment I can pay a book and its author.

I still feel it was missing something, and it left me needing more--wanting much, much more. I could never bring myself to say it was "amazing," because there was always an element missing to the characters themselves that made it hard to feel an affinity even for Tanaquil at some points. She was a wonderful character, but maybe it was the style of the book that threw me off. It was very to-the-point and didn't elaborate on the main character in a lot of places where it could have. This made it hard to relate to Tanaquil as closely as I wanted to a lot of times. If there had been more focus on Tanaquil as the main character, this would have been eased and probably made the book a lot more relate-able and even enjoyable. Instead we get a sense that Tanaquil herself is just another character, one that we happen to be following more than the others. That's the only real complaint I have for this book: that Tanaquil as the main character should have been placed into that position a little more relate-ably instead of seeming so distant from the reader. At the same time, I can understand how this would be difficult considering the mood of the story, but I feel that it should have been manageable, and would have greatly improved the book.

Nonetheless! This is a book that is worth the read, and will probably add variety to the typical fantasy books that are out there. Its ideas may come off coarsely, but the ideas themselves are so worth your reading that it well makes up for it with them. Plus, the character is smart, if a little cynical at first. It's a great book for anyone expanding their Fantasy/Magic collections, and will give you a swift, interesting lesson in mood-setting. Pick it up, in the library or on sale, but give it a shot. You may find it more interesting than you bargained for, even if the writing style may sometimes catch you off guard and set you off balance. It's earned the stars I gave it by my book! ( )
  N.T.Embe | Dec 31, 2013 |
Tanaquil is the daughter of a sorceress named Jaive who lives in a fortress in the middle of a desert. There are some soldiers and servants, but mostly Tanaquil is ignored by everyone, including her mother. Jaive sequesters herself in her "Sorcerium," often losing bits of stray magic that cause bizarre transformations throughout the fortress. Tanaquil has never been able to manage sorcery, so can not join her mother in her demon summoning, looking-glass scrying, animal-transforming activities. Instead, Tanaquil is good with all things technical and mechanical, repairing everything from clocks, to children's toys, to soldier's weapons. She longs to leave the fortress, but Jaive refuses to let her go and she can not survive the long trek through the desert unaided.

Tanaquil acquires a pet, a creature called a peeve that is a cross between a dog, cat, pig and raccoon and can speak a little bit, due to being infected by her mother's stray magic. Tanaquil and the peeve make a discovery in the desert - a collection of old bones that Tanaquil brings back to the fortress and assembles, realizing that what she has uncovered is in fact the skeleton of a unicorn. Even as a skeleton, the unicorn is incredible beautiful with starry bones and a rainbow skull.

Tanith Lee's writing is so beautiful and descriptive that it makes the weirdness of the setting and the premise of the story believable, if dream-like. The randomly-changing objects, like the bird coming out of the orange-slice in the opening scene, especially evoke this dream-quality. But at the same time, I believe in the unicorn skeleton and I get shivers when I read about it.

I love the descriptiveness of Lee's writing. I mean, just look at this description of the fortress's great hall:

"Despite the three lit fireplaces, racks of torches in demon-shaped sconces, and the rose silk curtains along the walls, Jaive's hall was always draughty. A solitary banquet table stood isolated in the midst of it, facing an enormous round window of emerald and red glass. Outside on this window, new patterns of frost had already formed, ferns and fossil-like things. Beyond it lay the darkening, freezing desert, its rough sand a mere five feet below the glass - but the glass was sorcerous and only another sorcery could breach it. From the carved beams, however, hung ordinary cobwebs. There were holes in the curtains, and in the damask table-cloth. The rats had parties in the hall when Jaive did not." (p. 28)

or of the unicorn itself:

"It was black as night, black as every night of the world together, and it shone as the night shines with a comet. On this burning blackness, the mane and the flaunting tail of it were like an acid, golden-silver fire off the sea, and it was bearded in this sea-fire-acid, and spikes of it were on the slender fetlocks. Its eyes were red as metal in a forge. It was not simply beauty and strength, it was terror. It rose up and up to a height that was more, it seemed, than the room could hold, and its black shadow curved over it, far less black than itself." (p. 34)

That's one hell of a unicorn! Now, there is a fairy tale tone to this story, and it's quite short (under 150 pages), but Lee spends a lot of time establishing atmosphere and providing description, which I appreciated. When Tanaquil gets out of the fortress, she and the peeve encounter traveling merchants, a bustling city, an artisans guild that resents her talent, and the princess, Lizra, who quickly befriends her. All the while, she is haunted by the mysterious, sometimes helpful, sometimes sinister, black unicorn.

I actually enjoyed the first 50 pages the best - I enjoyed the sorceress with her demons, the decrepit tower with the random magic causing problems, and the total weirdness of finding the unicorn bones in the desert. After Tanaquil and the peeve left the fortress, I felt the story slowed down a lot with the introduction of the merchants and the artisans. It actually reminded me a lot of Tanith Lee's other juvenile/young adult book, Law of the Wolf Tower (Law was written about a decade later, but I happened to read it first.) But then things picked up again once Tanaquil meets Lizra and is introduced to Prince Zorander's, outrageously opulent court. We get to see more of Lee's fabulous imagination at work, like the man-powered elevators and clockwork moths, and some striking imagery like the aloof prince wearing a shark-skin cloak.

As a side note, I was unimpressed by Heather Cooper's illustrations. Now, I'm all for illustrations (even though with Tanith Lee's writing you hardly need them) but if it was going to be illustrated, then the quality of the illustrations should have matched the lush power of the prose. Instead the illustrations are incredibly sparse, uninspiring line drawings. Definitely not necessary. ( )
1 vote catfantastic | Aug 18, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tanith Leeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cooper, HeatherIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nolan, DennisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Louise Cooper, maker of stories, singer of unicorns.
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The first thing Tanaquil saw almost every morning on waking was her mother's face.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The only daughter of a powerful sorceress, Tanaquil seems to have no magical talent of her own. Then she discovers a pile of bones in the desert near her mother's palace. Carefully assembled by Tanaquil, the bones form the skeleton of a unicorn, which comes back to life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812524594, Mass Market Paperback)

When Tanaquil puts together a pile of bones that she found in the desert, she creates a black unicorn, which comes to life and leads her on an adventure. Reprint. K. PW. AB. C.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:50 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

With her talent for mending things, sixteen-year-old Tanaquil reconstructs a unicorn which, brought to life, lures her away from her desert fortress home and her sorceress mother to find a city by the sea and the way to a perfect world.

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