The Unicorn Anthology
(ed. Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman)
Reviewed by: Lucy Powell
A collection of short stories all in some ways about unicorns, this anthology offers readers a variety of different fresh, exciting perspectives and engaging prose on the ages-old, and well known, mythical animal. Whilst there are a myriad of different authors chosen for this work, the collection of voices and styles edited together by Beagle and Weisman all sit seamlessly together, making an anthology that is consistently well-rounded and fresh as you flip from story to story.
From hunting a unicorn as a news reporter trying to investigate a lead, to a “romance” and resulting issue between a young noblewoman and a unicorn, each short story is engaging and executed to perfection. Whilst there are more “traditional” stories about the unicorns, with a focus on their being hunted to extinction or as rare, fabled animals that need capturing (as “A Hunter’s Ode to His Bait’) these are written out in thought provoking, and clever ways, the aforementioned story ending with a rather gruesome, bloody telling of hunt and sexual lust over the corpse of a dead unicorn.
Yet, some other stories deviate from these physical animal to offer another perspective. “Survivor” by David Sneds is one of the most eerie and gripping tales of the collection; detailing snippets of a young man’s life who gets a unicorn tattoo placed over his heart, rendering him effectively immortal. The visceral, thought-provoking descriptions employed by Sneds plays off the image of the unicorn as a pure, immortal being and transposes it over to human life, where mortality is a maddening certainty, to great effect.
Indeed, some stories, like Garth Nix’s “The Highest Justice”, could do well with being expanded into a longer, standalone works, the juxtaposition of zombies and unicorns starting and ending far too quickly for any proper backstory or explanation to take place. That is perhaps one fault with this collection. The variation of material around this main prompt does not allow the reader much investment in the short story they are reading at any one the time before they are transported to a different one – such is the way with this type of publication.
The anthology however, ends with a poem, a intriguing break from the plethora of prose that has gone before it. But that does not detract from the work. Rather, this poem from Nancy Springer, adds a speculative note to the end. What do unicorns mean to you, the reader? What can they represent, outside of the well-known tropes of purity and healing? It is a multi-faceted creature, and like the collection of stories, this is a mythical animal of depth and mystery. These short stories do much to offer interesting perspectives on what exactly that might mean, and are well worth the read.