Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tanith Lee

Black Unicorn
by Tanith Lee
Recommended Age: 14+

Tanaquil is a red-headed girl from a long line of red-headed sorceresses. But to her mother's vast disappointment, Tanaquil is no sorceress. Not that Tanaquil is any happier with her lot, cooped up in a castle reeking with unruly magic, with only guards and servants for company, and a desert all around that burns by day and freezes by night. The only thing she has going for her is a talent for fixing things.

One day, a peeve - a sort of burrowing desert creature that, because of an overspill of Tanaquil's mother's magic, has learned to speak - brings the lonely girl a very strange bone. Later, the peeve leads Tanaquil to where the rest of a skeleton is buried...the skeleton of a unicorn. Tanaquil puts the bones together and uses her knack for clockwork to make the thing work. By some freak happenstance, the thing of clockwork and bone becomes a real, flesh-and-blood unicorn, with an unintended magical gift from Tanaquil's mother.

Next thing, Tanaquil is on a strange and exciting journey, escaping from all that she has known, heading for she knows not what. Accompanied by her faithful "pet peeve," hounded by accusations of witchcraft, persecuted by an artisans' guild, befriended by a princess, and chosen by a creature from another world to do a thing she never dreamed she could do, Tanaquil's story goes from terror to suspense to breathtaking beauty to heartbreaking sadness, with wit and irony and warm-hearted humor never far away.

This is a tale of a girl in a badly made world, longing for a better one - glimpsing it, losing it, and deciding to make the most of her own world after all. It is the tale of a frustrated teen staking out her own life, her own dreams. And it is a story of tremendous originality, told in words of unbelievable beauty. This is the first book by Tanith Lee that I've read. I hope it will be the first of many.

Gold Unicorn
by Tanith Lee
Recommended Age: 14+

The sequel to Black Unicorn finds young sorceress Tanaquil - whose gift is mending things - nearing the end of her travels to see her world, accompanied by a very patient camel and her adorable, talking pet peeve. As she turns toward home, toward the castle of her eccentric mother, Tanaquil strays into the path of a conquering horde - an army bent on subduing the entire world - and the icy young Empress who believes she is bringing peace and perfection to an imperfect world.

The awful bit is that the Empress is none other than Lizra, half-sister to Tanaquil herself. And she wants Tanaquil to use her gift to animate a monstrous, gold-plated, mechanical unicorn that will snort scalding steam and stamp its massive feet and break down the walls of any city that dares to resist.

Trapped in the center of a horrible conquest, Tanaquil knows that no good will come out of using her power to aid her sister's evil plan. And in case you think nothing could be worse, Tanaquil also falls in love with the dashing young mercenary whose heart belongs to Lizra. Ouch!

Here is another tale full of humor and horror and pathos, and the growing pains of a young woman claiming her own identity in the world. Told in rich language, full of fascinating imagery including a dreadful interlude in Hell (or something like it), it is a captivating story of the dangers of sorcery and the anguish of love.

Red Unicorn
by Tanith Lee
Recommended Age: 14+

The third book in the series that begins with Black Unicorn and Gold Unicorn begins with a refreshing summary of the first two books. Then, it plunges quickly into a new tale featuring the young sorceress Tanaquil and her talking pet peeve.

Tanaquil has returned to the castle of her enchantress mother, Jaive, heartsick and dissatisfied with everything. To start with, the wizard Worabex has moved in with Jaive and brought so many changes to the familiar, magic-ridden fortress. All the servants and soldiers that had made life nearly bearable have gone, replaced by an army of enslaved demons that make Tanaquil uncomfortable. Then, the peeve has gone and found himself a mate, and he has less time to be with Tanaquil. Worst of all, all the romance in the air serves as a reminder of her own lost love.

For as you may recall, if you read Gold Unicorn, Tanaquil loves a dashing hero named Honj — who loves her in return; but Tanaquil’s half sister, the Empress Lizra, plans to marry Honj, and both Tanaquil and Honj care about Lizra (and fear her) too much to put a stop to it.

Then a bizarre, magical accident plunges Tanaquil into a strange world where there are doubles for many people she knows—including herself, Lizra, and Honj. Armed with strange magical abilities, such as invisibility, shape-changing, and the ability to fly and walk through walls, Tanaquil becomes a spectator in a romantic triangle very similar to her own. Only her alternate self—a tormented, jealous princess named Tanakil—is prepared to kill her half-sister in order to claim the throne and the man that she wants for herself.

Tanaquil’s adventure in this quirky new world is filled with beautiful imagery, passion, excitement, humor, and deadly danger; and, of course, on the mysterious fringes of everything stalks the Red Unicorn of the book’s title. The real question is, will Tanaquil make it back to her own world, and take control of her own story?

Be prepared for the unexpected. Be prepared for beauty. Be prepared, above all, for vivid colors, textures, and melodies, magically captured by the written word. There may not be any dramatic wizard duels in this book, but the characters, settings, and problems of this tale seem to charm themselves right off the page.

EDIT: Tanith Lee is also the author of the current Piratica series, about which I know nothing, though I have seen it around.

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