Meg’s Throwback Review: Into the Land of the Unicorns
Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville
It still holds up with a mighty 4 canaries!
In 1994, a book came out that changed my life. No, it wasn’t one of the novels that made its way to the fiction best seller’s list of the year. (Which consists almost entirely of Grisham, King, and Steele—some things never change.) Nor was it the nonfiction behemoth of the year: “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.” (Though it might have been if I weren’t 8 years old at the time.) No, in 1994, there was a single book that captured my tiny, feathered heart, soul, and mind for years and years to come: Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville.
The book had escaped my current attemtion until a few days back, when I was hunting for a new audiobook. Through random hyperlinking via Audible, I stumbled upon something glorious: a full-cast recording of Coville’s classic. A mere 3 hours long and $6 to purchase, I bought it with a giddy giggle. There was only a hint of trepidation, just a passing thought that I might not love the book so much nearly two decades removed from those first thousand read throughs. If the book did not hold up to my memory, I knew my heart (that little girl bit of my heart that still really really really believes in unicorns) would be devastated.
Into the Land of the Unicorns (ILU for short. Gettit? ILU? I vote yea that that was done on purpose) is the first novel of the Unicorn Chronicles series. It opens with preteen Cara and her grandmother running from an unknown follower. She jumps from a church tower and through a magical portal to the land of Luster, the land of the unicorns. From there, she must find The Old One to deliver a message from Cara’s grandmother, who was left behind on Earth, perhaps dead or hurt at the hands of the hunter. And she must stop the Hunters from finding a way into Luster to kill all the unicorns. From there it’s a quick frolic through Luster, with dragons and goblins and this really awesome squirrel creature that was 100-times more amusing read aloud.
I slipped back into this story so easily that it’s difficult to write an objective review. I found myself anticipating whole passages, paragraphs that my brain has retained in favor for less important things like who won the Crimean War (a fact that is kicking my ass in The Eyre Affair). I found that the main unicorn, Lightfoot, was just as much of a teenage boy as I remember: slightly pretentious, prone to fits of pouting hoof stamping, determined, reckless, and loyal. And I remembered so clearly wanting to be Cara, wanting to be that girl who fell through to the land of the unicorns. Seriously, it tapped right back into that bit of my soul that wasn’t crushed by college literature courses. ILU didn’t have to be perfect prose. It just had to be.
To attempt to step back and assess the story critically, I still find myself truly enjoying it. It is definitely aimed at the younger edge of the YA crowd (as are most of Coville’s stories). And though short, it tackles familiar themes such as isolation, betrayal, loyalty, difficult family dynamics (both of the human and unicorn types), and the importance of friendship (even if it’s only like 8-hour-old friendships). All that warm fuzzy stuff that kids learn best from books. (Because who listens to parents, right?)
The other day, while digging in the storage room for my copy of Eyre Affair, I spotted my paperback copy of ILU on my bookshelf.
Picking it up was a hazardous affair: the binding is so loose and flaking from so many readings that it’s holding together through sheer willpower. I remembered then my reading schedule as a kid: ILU, something else, ILU, something else, ILU, something else, rinse-repeat. It was the book that put me on the path of writer/editor/voracious reader. It was the first book that in which I truly discovered the magic of a story.
This is still a book that I would recommend to a parent looking for a starting chapter book for a precocious young reader. Any kid that can handle Lemony Snicket or Angie Sage’s works would have no problems with Coville’s. The audio recording was good, though it did have moments of absolutely cheese, such as when dramatic music closed each cliffhanger ending for chapters. But it was an endearing sort of cheese and a wonderful way to breeze through three hours.
As I tucked my copy back on the bookshelf, I glanced over the rest of my Coville collection (which is practically everything he’s every published). Next to the rest of the Unicorn Chronicles sits his collections of unicorn short stories. And I remember the preface of one of those collections in which Coville proposes a perfect name for a group of unicorns: a glory of unicorns.
And as a start of his foray into unicorn lore, Into the Land of the Unicorns remains a terrific story, and one that I can’t wait to revisit a million more times in the future.