Red Unicorn

Just reread Tanith Lee’s Red Unicorn, which is the third and last of her books about the sorceress’s daughter Tanaquil, and for some reason the only one that I reread.

At the end of the second book, Tanaquil and her beloved mutually agreed to break up, because Tanaquil’s sister also loved him, and really, needed him more than Tanaquil did, so it was for the best.

Tanaquil then returns home to her mother, miserable because of the break-up, because of having put herself in a situation where she has nothing to distract her from the break-up, and because her mother and even her familiar are finding themselves in love.

That’s the first segment of the book. In the second segment, Tanaquil finds herself in another world, curiously disjointed from her own, where there is a Tanakil, who also has a sister, and who is also in love …

So, the story is that while she is attempting to stop Tanakil from outright murdering her sister, Tanaquil figures out that really, breaking up because ‘your sister needs him more than you do’ is a stupid reason to break up, and will make none of you happy. Not you, not him, not your sister either. And none of the relationships will survive, not yours with hers either. That’s the second segment of the book.

The third segment of the book is that Tanaquil wakes up, having realised that the world she’s come to is actually an inner world – this is well sign-posted, it’s not like ‘and then she woke up and it was all a dream’ – and having realised that really she just needs to go find her ex and tell him she wants to be with him. (Also maybe she’s being a little bit harsh on her mum, but it’s hard to be kind to other people when you’ve been awful to yourself.)

So, off she goes and finds him.

The whole book is basically Tanaquil processing, and I love it. In particular, little details, like how when Tanaquil is actually presented with her own mental landscape come to life, she has to question if her sister was ever actually that cold. She is able to see herself and her frustration more sympathetically.

For a book I first read when I was maybe 11, it holds up very well.

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