Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko

Claire and her older sister Sophie are having an adventure - of sorts. After all the recent fears and worries about Sophie's health, Claire has felt that she and her sister have pulled apart and their relationship is strained. When they visit their deceased great-aunt's house for their parents to pack up and dispose of all the antiques, the two sisters discover a mysterious unicorn statue and a fireplace. Encouraged by adventurous Sophie, the sisters climb up the chimney... and find themselves in a terrifying world with a monster chasing them. They manage to escape and Sophie decides the adventure never happened and tells Claire to forget all about it.

Claire has always followed Sophie's lead and tries to forget, but when Sophie disappears, Claire takes up all her courage and ventures to the magical world again, only to discover that Sophie has vanished there also - and has been visiting the other world for months, making friends and discoveries without her. It's a beautiful, magical world, but also a frightening one. Claire is plunged into a confusing adventure, always one step behind the missing Sophie, and struggling to find out how things work on her own.

She learns that in the land of Arden there are four magical guilds which control four elements; metal, stone, plants, and weaving. Long ago, the guilds worked together and honored the magical unicorns that populated the land. But when war arose, many tragedies occurred, the unicorns were killed, and the guilds were separated. Now they live apart, forbidden to work together. But strange magic is afoot and Sophie's disappearance is just the beginning...

During her journey, Claire discovers strengths she never knew she had even as she struggles to figure out who is friend and who is enemy. She witnesses the terrible cost of war and prejudice, and sees the aftermath in the lives of her new friends as well as how she and her sister are both affected as well. While the story employs many wish-fulfillment tropes, like discovering magic and royal blood, it offers them in a fresh setting with strong, multi-faceted female characters that keep the story interesting and exciting.

Verdict: A strong debut fantasy for middle grade readers, hand this one to fans of E. D. Baker, Merrie Haskell, and Diane Zahler.

ISBN: 9781681192451; Published February 2018 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

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