The Unicorn Quest
By Kamilla Benko
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 7831 6
Young adult fantasy novels tend to stick to a set pattern when it comes to main characters. The central protagonist is usually a teenage boy or girl with a sidekick of the opposite sex, so as to draw in both male and female readers. Yet in her debut novel, The Unicorn Quest, American author Kamilla Benko tweaks the formula a little.
The main character is a teenage girl whose sidekick is her elder sister. This simple tweak is a brave move; some teenage male readers may balk at the idea of reading a novel about two sisters (sad, but true). This would be a pity, though, because The Unicorn Quest is a thrilling read.
Benko’s magical novel follows a real-world girl as she searches for her sister in a land full of fantastical goings on and alluring creatures – both good and evil.
Since C. S. Lewis sent a family of children through the back of a wardrobe into the land of Narnia, authors have been trying to come up with original ways of transporting their characters to fantasy lands. Benko’s method may be somewhat familiar to Harry Potter fans: her characters travel through chimneys.
The Martinson family has inherited a vast mansion from Great Aunt Diana, who filled her home with unusual collectibles from around the world. It’s the perfect playground for two curious teenage sisters.
In one of the dusty rooms, there is a vast open fireplace with a ladder leading up into the blackness. The temptation is impossible to resist; Claire and Sophie climb the ladder to the wonderful world of Arden.
Of course, Arden is not the peaceful, beautiful place it first appears to be. It’s a land on the brink of war. The four magic guilds who used to live in harmony together now distrust each other. The beloved unicorns of Arden have disappeared, and the land is haunted by ghostly wraiths. The whole place is in need of someone to sort out the chaos.
When Sophie disappears into the unknown wilds of the mysterious land, Claire has no option but to set out to find her. But Claire isn’t the only one searching for her sister; a dangerous treasure hunter believes that Sophie has stolen a magical artefact, and he is hot on her trail. The stage is set for action, conflict and a dose of powerful sister bonding.
Benko has created a rich, alternative world and a plot full of intrigues and surprises. The Unicorn Quest is a solid start to what could turn out to be a must-read series.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org