Claire’s great-aunt Diana mysteriously disappeared. As her only family, Claire, Sophie, and her parents plan to spend the summer cleaning out Diana’s house, which is cluttered with her aunt’s collection of strange artifacts. When Claire and Sophie discover a ladder in the fireplace, Sophie leads the way up. . . and up. . . and up. They discover a fantastical land called Arden, filled with castles, magic, and dangerous creatures. Claire makes Sophie promise never to climb the stairs again.
When Sophie disappears, Claire knows she must be brave enough to search for her sister by going up the ladder. When Claire gets to Arden, she discovers a world full of danger. Four guilds of magic no longer trust each other. All of the unicorns have disappeared. Horrible wraiths roam at night. And Sophie is missing. Claire must find the courage to search for her sister, but first she must discover the secret of the unicorns.
Claire is fearful that her sister is in danger, which propels her to team up with two others—Netta and Sena—in order to find Sophie and a stolen unicorn relict. Because Arden’s war happened in the past, the action included in the book is not scary. Instead, readers will be enthralled with Arden’s strange creatures and magic.
The land of Arden is well developed, and the author uses beautiful descriptions to bring the setting to life. Even though the story contains some exciting scenes, the long descriptions slow down the pacing of the plot. The story follows a typical epic format—a girl is forced to go on a quest, teams up with others, and travels from place to place searching for answers. Readers expecting a story about sisters and unicorns will be disappointed, because there is little interaction between Claire and her sister, and the unicorn only appears for a brief flash at the end.
The Unicorn Quest will entertain strong readers who like reading about magical lands and characters going on a quest. Although the story is not unique, Claire is a believable character that overcomes her fear as she searches for her sister. The sweet ending has several surprises and will leave the reader wanting to pick up the next book in the series—Secret in the Stone. The Unicorn Quest will appeal to those who like stories such as The Last, by Katherine Applegate, and Podkin One-Ear, by Kieran Larwood.
- A wraith tries to attack Claire, but before it does Sophie, “had thrown herself onto the thing’s back and was desperately pounding at its shoulder blades, her fist sinking into the shifting, smoky blackness that hung around it. . . Claire scooted away from the creature, but then there was another shriek—from Sophie this time—and Claire watched in horror as the beast’s clawed hand reached behind and finally peeled Sophie off its back, throwing her to the ground.” With help, the girls are able to escape.
- When Claire climbs up the ladder to get to Arden, she is attacked. “The air whooshed out of Claire as something—someone—tackled her from behind. She felt a knee land firmly on her lower back, pinning her to the ground. Pain ripped through her shoulders as her arms were yanked behind her. . .Claire coughed, spitting out the dirt that coated her mouth from the fall. Something cold and hard suddenly pressed at her throat: the edge of a knife.” Claire is then taken into the city, where she is put in jail.
- While stuck in a cave a wyvern appears. Claire uses magic to put the wyvern in a cage. “The wyvern strained, its shoulders pounding against the rock-cage. To Claire’s dismay, the wyvern’s scales seemed to be chipping away at the bars, widening the space little by little.” Claire calms the wyvern, and the group gets out of the cave safely.
- A man tries to club Claire, so she holds her sword as if it is a baseball bat and, “swung at the club, trying to keep it away from her. Sword and club met with a clang that reverberated through her.” Someone stops the man from hurting Claire.
- When Sophie is shot with an arrow, “a scream burst out of Claire as her sister’s blood poured over her knees. . . Sophie’s pitiful whisper made Claire grab on to her tighter. . .” A man picks up Sophie and lays her, “at the foot of Queen Rock,” in order to perform a ceremony.
- A wraith grabs Claire. “As its skeletal hand, smelling of rotten flesh, tightened around her neck, Claire knew, in that horrible way one always knows, that she had made an irrevocable mistake. She gasped for breath as the wraith dragged her slowly back. . . Dark thoughts wrapped around Claire’s mind as she felt herself drowning in the wraith’s cold.” Claire uses magic to save herself.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Claire is given Sinceri Tea, which is, “distilled from forget-me-not petals for recollection, sunflower seeds for openness, and a blade of hedgehog grass from the beaches of the Sunrise Isles. It will ensure you cannot lie when you answer.”
- Claire and Sophie find a ladder in a fireplace. When they climb the ladder, they end up in Arden—a world where magic is real.
- In Arden, there are four guilds of magic. Forgers work with metal, Gemmers work with rocks and gems, Spinners weave magic from thread, and Tillers work with all that grows from the earth. “Our magic, guild magic, only extends to what’s around us. . . The magic doesn’t come from within us, but from the things around us—plants, rocks, thread, metal. All we do is encourage the magic that naturally exists in those things, to make plants grow bigger and faster and stronger, for instance.”
- Wraiths are dangerous creatures that kill humans. Claire describes a wraith as “big and dark and cold. It kind of looked like a skeleton wrapped in shadows.”
- Nett uses Mile High Potion to turn a blade of grass into rope. Nett, “let a drop of something green tumble onto a blade of grass. With his thumb and forefinger, he pinched the blade and gave it a twist . . . The blade of grass was growing longer and larger, going from the length of some floss to shoelace size in a matter of seconds.”
- While in a shop, Nett finds a revealer, which, “reflects a person’s greatest flaw. . . It’s a horrible thing to have the nastiest, most secret thoughts within you revealed to all.” He also finds an herb that will, “take away the eater’s ability to make decisions for an hour, or four years, depending on the amount consumed.”
- Claire discovers that she is a Gemmer and can talk to wyverns.
- A woman uses a magic threat to choke a man. “Francis dropped to his knees as though someone had set a bag of bricks on his shoulders. His arm flailed as he tried to push his Royalist cloak off, but as hard as he tried, he could not lift the garment from his shoulders. There were a few snaps as his ribs cracked.”