MrsK's Seasoned Reader Picks

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Plague of Unicorns by Jane Yolen

A Plague of Unicorns
ISBN: 9780310746485
Publisher's Synopsis:
Young James, an earl’s son, is a bit bothersome and always asking the oddest questions. In despair—the last of James’ tutors having quit—his mother sends him off to be educated at Cranford Abbey. She feels the strict regimen will do him a world of good. But Cranford Abbey has its own problems. It has been falling into disrepair. The newly appointed Abbot Aelian takes it upon himself to save the abbey with the use of his secret weapon: a recipe for golden apple cider passed down in his family for many generations. He believes that by making and selling the cider, the monks will raise necessary funds to restore the abbey to its former glory. Abbot Aelian has everything he needs—almost. One obstacle stands in his way, unicorns that happen to feast specifically on the golden apples. Abbot Aelian and his men must fight off the unicorns to make the cider. He and the monks try to form a battalion to fight off the beasts; next they import heroes to fight for them. But the heroes run off, monks are injured, and a herd of ravenous unicorns continue munching. After no success, the abbot finally calls upon the most unlikely of heroes, one suggested by no other than young James. That hero is small and unprepossessing but possesses the skill to tame the beasts. Though wildly skeptical, Abbot Aelian must risk everything and believe in this recommended stranger or risk the fall of Cranford Abbey.

In that first autumn of Aelian's rule,
when the golden apples were at their ripest,
the battle lines were drawn---
monks against unicorns.

MrsK's Review:
Everything about this journey is beautifully crafted! How can anyone stop the unicorns from eating the golden apples? Will a young boy be the answer in saving the Cranford Abbey?

At first you learn of Cranford Abbey's apples, especially the Hosannah apples which "were a startling gold" color, yet not worth eating. So for such a long time no one was bothered by the unicorns dining on these apples. 
"A lone unicorn may be a magnificent animal,
full of rare enchantment and beauty. 
in a herd they can prove exceedingly cranky
and exceptionally dangerous if disturbed,
especially while eating golden apples."

So the first few abbots did not consider the Hosannah apples worth any "battle." involvement. That is until the abbey needed repairs and until Abbot Aelian was appointed to Cranford Abbey. As if divinely inspired, Abbot Aelian had a rare recipe for Golden Apple Cider... which by the way could provide a source of income for those Abbey repairs. Now how would you go about keeping the herd of unicorns out of the orchard? Before you decide, please keep in mind that monks "do not believe" in harming any animal unless it's for food. Although, it is fair to say that unicorns had "no care about monks" especially since they have "very sharp horns."

I cannot spoil the story line, let's just say that the first attempts at ridding the unicorns from the orchard caused many of the young boys to suffer with "screaming nightmares." Not even the long line of Heroes (possibly connected by an underground hero network), could withstand the torture of the battle. It is rumored that they came back "white-faced and shaking."

We know that there is power in prayer, but could a young boy of eight with a smudge on his nose be the answer? You see, not so far away (just about three days travel), there was a young boy (who just happens to have a smudge on his nose). James, the maybe heir to the dukedom of Callanshire, is naturally concerned with the many answers he must know. Of course it is not clear what he knows about the unicorn battle at the Abbey. Suffice it to say, he is more concerned about learning all of the answers for all of his questions. You will soon discover that once James turns nine, he will be sent to Cranford Abbey. Interesting don't you think?

Once the monks learned that James could read and write he is turned over to Brother Luke (who is an Illuminator):
"Now this is what it would look like in italics... 
To James' astonishment, the pen left not a spot or a blot.
The ink flowed across the scroll like a river in a flood,
with waves capped by little curlicues."

Learning the art of Illumination was a beautiful thing, yet helping to rid the unicorns from the orchard and setting traps seemed a bit more to his liking. So as it was James' way, he begins his quest to help. With his very first encounter with the unicorns... he became proclaimed the "true hero of the day." He is given an audience with the Abbot in which a plan is formed, with a few exceptions of course.

Sorry but this adventure will only continue if you read the book,
A great fantasy for any independent reader...
Add it to your Library shelves!
 Meet the Author:
 A Pciture of Jane smiling  Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.
Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others.

A few of my favorites:
 Merlin and the Dragons
Owl Moon   How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?   My Father Knows the Names of Things 
Stone Angel   Hush, Little Horsie    Commander Toad in Space   Piggins
Dragon's Blood (Pit Dragon Chronicles Series #1)  The Devil's Arithmetic   The Hostage Prince   The Dragon's Boy  The Young Merlin Trilogy: Passager, Hobby, and Merlin
Where Have the Unicorns Gone?   Here There Be Dragons

"I received this book for free from for this review." 

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