It took me a while to finish this. It was very readable; I'm not sure why I dragged my feet. The writing was readable, the characters were all right, and I wanted to know what was going to happen - but it seemed to take forevvvver. (Longer (yes, longer) review, with spoilers, on my blog.
As the story begins, six years ago the world underwent a Change. At least, no one’s said anything about the world outside the U.S., but since no one seems to have come along and tried to colonize the country from a stronger base the presumption is that it was a global thing. At 4:30 one afternoon, everything mechanical stopped working, from battery-operated watches to cars to telephones to guns. And for various reasons lots of people have died, leaving a much emptier post-apocalyptic landscape, returning to nature, with magic and magical creatures never seen while technology ruled.
The story is told in the first person by Pete Garey, 20 (21?) years old and on his own since the Change occurred. Over a year ago Pete found a very young unicorn with a broken leg – and the book almost lost me right there when in a flashback the pretty little thing looked up at him and said, in a little girl voice, “Bwoke”. Repeatedly. What with one thing and another, Pete was – and is as of the time of the book – able to touch the unicorn, being still a virgin, and he helped her to heal. He named her Ariel, and they have become partners over the last couple of years, traveling and surviving together. They are, in fact, Familiars, which is pretty much what the common Fantasy usage is (as opposed to Buddies, which happens when a human bonds with an animal to gain control over it). They wander the southeast without much of a goal beyond survival, until the day they discover that there is an evil sorcerer in New York City who wants her horn. Not her, necessarily – her horn.
I don’t know. It’s a neat idea – suddenly the laws of nature change, and no technology works - from the most advanced (i.e., life support machinery) to the most basic - but magic does, but … shouldn’t that mean the wheel wouldn’t work? I mean, guns don’t fire. Wind-up wristwatches work, but guns won’t fire. Guns have been around for hundreds of years, and aren’t really even all that mechanical; my (limited) understanding is that it’s more of a physics thing than anything else, especially with old weapons. There’s no reason a revolver shouldn’t work even if technology has been obliterated - the laws of physics haven't changed. The explanation given is that Boyett hated guns, and didn’t want them in his book, and so discarded logic in favor of the explanation “It’s magic. Just because. Shut up.” OK. Also, Boyett was 19 when he wrote the book, which actually explains a great deal. A very great deal.
Something I find fascinating is that the edition I have certainly doesn’t show Ariel on the cover – it comes across as a gritty urban post-apocalyptic fantasy: crumbling edifices, fire, random hub caps, and a sword. It was, I think, a good idea not to put the glowy white unicorn on the cover. That way lies Children’s Book, which this certainly isn’t. It is, however something of a coming-of-age story, along with post-apocalypse semi-urban fantasy tale - oh, and a Quest, too. It’s actually strangely off-putting to have a unicorn in this setting – I’m too conditioned to expect certain things when a unicorn is involved, and none of those things are present. Ariel curses like a sailor – or rather like Pete, from whom she learned to talk … but she glows a little, and loves peppermint candies. (At least she doesn't poop peppermint candies. Actually, I don't think she poops at all.)
I … just don’t know. Pete’s all right; he’s self-absorbed, except when he’s absorbed in Ariel – but if spoilers are not alarming see below for more on his self-absorption. Ariel is all right; she can be kind of bitch, which is actually funny in a unicorn. And she knows things she has no business knowing, but has no idea about other things; she doesn’t know what a lighthouse is when she sees it, but she can always tell you what time it is, not in terms of sun position but in the same sort of answer a person with a watch would: “It’s five till ten.” She doesn’t know what Chesapeake Bay is, but she’s able to identify a saddle on something else’s back and can give accurate and detailed information on dragon physiology and how to kill one. A factor in my lack of fondness for Ariel is, I think, that Pete spends so much time telling me how wonderful she is, but I don’t really see it in her actions and words. He tells me I should like her, but I’m given no reason to decide to like her. And the punning is as much fun as a hair shirt.
In his afterword (so charmingly called “Taking a dump in Lothlórien” – which, by the way, he accents incorrectly), Boyett talks about how the book evenly divides people into two camps: those who loved the book and whose lives it changed, and those who flung the book against a wall and wrote him hate mail. There is, he claims, no one who falls in the middle area. I hate to break it to him, but yes, there is. *raises hand* I did not love the book. I hated the memories it dredged up about, as he puts it, something that used to be in New York and isn't anymore. I hated the ending. I don’t think it would have changed my life even if I’d read it in my formative years. But I didn’t fling it, and the urge to write a nasty email died quickly. I hated the ending, but I didn’t care all that much; I’m not sorry I read it, but I simply won’t ever reread this one.