I was maybe being a little bit flippant when I added ‘Unicorns!’ to my 2018 Book Bingo card. While Robin McKinley may have recently written about Pegasus, I don’t think anyone has written anything about unicorns since the late 80s, (have they?). The poor, pure creatures would suffer terribly in the current climate methinks. So I thought I’d end up happily rereading The Little White Horse or The Last Unicorn instead of finding anything new (new to me) to satisfy this bingo requirement. I’d forgotten entirely that I had picked up The Unicorn Creed in a charity shop last year until I was digging around in the foothills of Book Mountain last weekend and came across it.
And I didn’t expect it to be so funny. If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting much at all, perhaps something rather earnest and maybe a bit out-dated. Not that I’ve any objections to earnest and out-dated, the reason I bought it in the first place was because it looked like something teen-me would have adored. Instead, it was funny, and clever, with some great riffing off typical fantasy tropes, (the book opens with a curse at a christening). It’s also actually the second book in Scarborough’s Argonia series, which is making me more than a little bit twitchy (I’m a completionist, and if there’s an order, I follow that order … I’m really trying not to think about it too much right now, if you don’t mind …), as I wasn’t aware of this when I bought it (obviously).
Anyway, enough about me, let’s talk about Maggie. Maggie Brown has a problem. She’s just been made a princess, and now has hordes of eligible bachelors clamouring for her attention. She’s having none of it, but her father wants her married and has locked her in a tower until she chooses one of said blokes for a husband. To add complications, she’s a witch, and witches aren’t really princess or wife material; and she’s a unicorn’s chosen maiden (therefore virginal), and marriage will obviously throw a spanner into that arrangement too. What is a girl to do? Fortunately, Maggie has a good friend in Colin Songsmith, who helps her break out of the tower quick-sharp, and accompanies her and her unicorn companion Moonshine on a visit to the king to ask him to undo the princess thing. Which would be easy if half the neighbourhood weren’t hunting unicorns and an evil wizard wasn’t trying to start a revolution.
The Unicorn Creed proceeds to dash off at a heck of a pace, introducing the reader to genies and gypsies, sirens and sea-serpents, wizards and werewolves, and zombies (!), as Maggie, Moonshine and Colin traipse about the countryside looking for help in an escalating series of troubles. Maggie is practical and marvellously snippy a lot of the time, Moonshine naive and absolutely adorable, and Colin may be well outside of his comfort zone and rather cowardly when it comes to confrontation, but he’s reliable and a good friend. A lot of the humour revolves around the subjects of virginity (or lack of it), and what makes a maid fit for a unicorn – Moonshine’s encounters with three more lovely and well-coiffed maidens than Maggie are particularly amusing. It’s all wry rather than ribald, and cocks a snook at the old beautiful-princess-waiting-for-her-prince thingummy, back when I guess it was still fairly fresh to do so (the book was originally published in 1983).
The supporting cast are all fun too. On the side of evil, Wulfric the werewolf is Moonshine’s dogged (ha!) pursuer, at first rather sinister but not wholly unlikeable (he wags his tail too much and is really just trying to please his mistress, and darn it, I love dogs), while Prince Leofwin is thoroughly detestable (I enjoyed hating him very much). On the side of right, Trickle the grumpy faery is fab, as is her friend Sebastian Bigfoot; master of disguise Wizard Raspberry is pleasantly ditsy, and Sir Cyril Perchingbird the Chief Archivist polite, kind and clever. His tentative admiration for the mature Princess Pegeen is really quite lovely. And the whole lot of them talk in that flowery, mock medieval way, thee-ing and thou-ing and forsooth-ing all over the place, and then dropping it for comic effect or whenever it’s not serving any purpose, which was all kinds of humorous.
This is the kind of book where events stack up until you start to think there’ll be no way out without a lot of people being killed and not getting their happy endings, before it all comes together neatly and for the best and you wonder what all the fuss was about. Sometimes that’s just what a person wants, an uncomplicated adventure, and that’s what you’ll get if you ever pick up this book. It’ll give you a laugh too, and will warm the cockles of your heart.
Two enthusiastic thumbs up.