Ask A Librarian: Fantasy Books Featuring Unicorns

At the request of one of our illustrious editors, I decided to compile a list of books featuring unicorns. As a former horsey girl, I understand the attraction. But how can fiction feature a unicorn without it feeling played out? Here are some of the better unicorn books I’ve found.

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Rampant and Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund. Astrid finds out the hard way that she’s a hereditary unicorn hunter, and packed off to Rome by her mother to join a convent of fellow hunters. But the unicorns she’s born to hunt aren’t the Disneyfied ones we know, these are bloodthirsty killers with venomous horns, and they are coming for Astrid and her sisters. I thought this was a great, really original take on the unicorn mythos, by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These are technically YA, but I think the appeal will reach to those of us who never quite got over the fact we couldn’t join the Scoobies.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Before it was a Rankin and Bass animated movie, it was a delicately written and heart-wrenching book. As a kid, I’d watched the movie so many times my VHS tape lost the sound, but the book still stands out. Beagle is an amazing writer, and I’m always disappointed he doesn’t have a larger body of work.

The Unicorn Sonata by Peter S. Beagle. If you like unicorns or classical music, this may intrigue you. It’s almost proto-urban fantasy, as a young Hispanic-American girl follows a mysterious piper down an alley in Los Angeles and into a world where unicorns exist, and are going blind. (Out of print)

Plastic orange unicorn goring a plastic man on it's horn.

Acorna: The Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey (first in a series): This legendary science fiction author takes on the unicorn myth and turns it on its head. When a young humanoid girl is found in an escape pod by asteroid miners, it’s apparent she’s not human, from her hooved feet to the horn on her forehead. There are ten books in the series about Acorna and her adventures across galaxies. These definitely aren’t “hard” sci-fi, but they are light and enjoyable, as Anne McCaffrey was a masterful author.

The Magic and the Healing by Nick O’Donohoe (first in a trilogy). B. J. Vaughn is a vet student in West Virginia when she is put on rotation by her mentor with some very unusual patients in a very unusual place. How do you treat a sentient griffin? How do you heal a unicorn? The veterinary science in this is sound, and Crossroads is an intriguing and engaging world. While B. J. struggles with helping beings that aren’t in any textbook, she must also come to terms with some private and devastating news. (These books are out of print, but definitely worth tracking down on Amazon or at a used bookstore.)

The Black Unicorn (The Magic Kingdom of Landover) by Tanith Lee (first in a trilogy). Tanaquil is the very un-magical daughter of a sorceress. But when she finds a skeleton in the desert and reassembles it, something happens and the skeleton becomes a unicorn. Tanith Lee is, in my opinion, under-appreciated, and the first author I’d suggest to people who wish Robin McKinley would put another book out already.

Birth of the Firebringer (Firebringer Trilogy) by Meredith Ann Pierce (first in a trilogy). Jan is the impetuous son of the king of the unicorns. His thoughtlessness leads his best friend and mentor into danger with him, facing gryphons, harpies, and more. As they attempt to survive, Jan wonders if he’s meant for more than this.

Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (anthology). What’s better: zombies or unicorns? In this anthology, various authors explore the possibilities in short stories. (Obviously, the answer is unicorns.) Slay Belle also recommended this anthology here.

Dragon Bound (A Novel of the Elder Races) by Thea Harrison (first in a series). When Pia is talked into stealing a coin from a dragon’s horde, she knows she’s in trouble, but she doesn’t realize how much trouble. The dragon is Dragos Culebre, a shape-shifting dragon and the richest man in New York City. This book is ridiculously entertaining if you’re into urban fantasy or paranormal romance.

Bonus: Pegasus books! Because sometimes we want horses that fly.

Pegasus by Robin McKinley. The pegasi and humans have lived together for thousands of years, depending on the magicians and shamans to translate to each other. But when Sylvi is officially bound to her pegasus Ebon, she realizes they can communicate without a translator, which could upend their worlds.

Airs Beneath the Moon by Toby Bishop (first in a trilogy). What happens when a peasant girl bonds with one of the flying horses reserved for nobility? Larkyn and Tup can’t be separated, and are sent to the academy where flyers and their horses are trained. This is another decent frothy read, but the villain’s “tell” that he’s evil and wrong could be seen as transphobic, and of course, all the flyers must be women who haven’t born children, leading to a misogynistic twist.


 

Unicorn with attitude photo credit: zoomar via photopin cc
Stripey Ask A Librarian graphic by Selena MacIntosh

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Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to jessica.werner@gmail.com

17 thoughts on “Ask A Librarian: Fantasy Books Featuring Unicorns”

  1. Hi. I know this is an old post, but the book you’re describing under “The Black Unicorn” is not the same Black Unicorn that’s part of the Landover series (which is by Terry Brooks). It’s my favorite of the Landover books, or at least the one I keep coming back to. (The fourth one, “The Tangle Box” is pretty dark, dudes.)
    Anyway, just wanted to be clear, because that’s what I do. Carry on!

  2. I just want to warn anyone who picks up Pegasus that Robin McKinley is still working on the sequel, and it is extremely frustrating to wait. Not saying you shouldn’t read it (I really liked it,) but be warned! You’ll have to wait to read the next one and it will suck.

    1. I thought about the Apprentice Adept series but I haven’t read them since junior high and I was worried it wouldn’t be as applicable as hoped. I keep thinking about going back and reading Piers Anthony books but then I remember I’m not a 13 year old boy.

    1. I was hoping The Unicorn Chronicles (Brue Coville) would get a mention! I’ve only read the first two–Into the Land of the Unicorns and Song of the Wanderer, but I devoured anything by Bruce Coville I could get my hands on in elementary school.

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