Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Tom McGrath
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Abbot Aelian took over Cranford Abbey with high hopes of turning it around, bringing it from (let’s face it) shabbiness back to glory. His secret recipe golden apple cider would be the perfect tool to make it happen, too. Only, every year an absolute horde of unicorns come rampaging in the orchards, eating all the golden apples before the abbey can harvest them! Not one to back down easily, Abbot Aelian begins to wage war–relatively peaceful war, as befits an abbey, but war nonetheless. Nothing seems to work, though. And just when all seems hopeless, a new arrival chatterbox boy with too many questions arrives . . . an arrival who just might hold the answer they need.
As expected, A Plague of Unicorns is another victory for Jane Yolen, although one fairly different from many of hers. I think the difference lies largely in the fact that this book is written to be appropriate for children in elementary (although it’s proven to be great fun for older readers as well!). Otherwise, this is classic Jane Yolen: an imaginative fantasy, full of varied and engaging characters, weaving history and legend into a seamlessly beautiful tale. I think it’s interesting how the first, maybe third?, of the story is told from Abbot Aelian’s perspective–and it is certainly amusing to see him struggling to find ways to defeat the unicorns. Then for the rest of the book, the perspective shifts to that of James, the son of the local duke. James is an interesting character to read (although he’d probably drive me crazy if I met him!), as is his sensible, daring big sister. I really felt drawn to relate to James throughout his part of the story and found that the problems he deals with go way beyond those of a fantasy, relating directly (but not obtrusively) to things kids deal with regularly in our own modern world. I would highly recommend A Plague of Unicorns to readers young and old, and especially to the curious.