While fantasy and science fiction often deals with non-human cultures, non-humanoid is still a big next step. Still, it happens often enough. Pierce’s world is nicely realized but what makes it memorable is how much she demystifies unicorns of all things. Their mystics can have prophetic dreams and they are very athletic but by making them the baseline ordinary people, they are less fantastic, more mundane.
Which by no means is a bad thing. It’s just interesting.
I don’t know how to discuss these books without major spoilers. At the same time, I don’t know how much really counts as a spoiler. Jan, the protagonist of the first book (and duagonist of the second two books ) turns out to be the fire bringer of prophecy? Wow, that’s going to be pretty obvious to every reader.
At the start of the series, the unicorns have been in diaspora for forty generations. Their homeland was taken over by the venomous wyverns. They are also have bad relations with the neighboring gryphon and pan (faun) tribes. Over the course of the three books, Jan the prince of the unicorns both learns the secrets of fire and unites pretty much all the disparate peoples through diplomacy. Meanwhile, in her own story arc, his mate Tek kicks butt and takes names.
Plot wise, the books are very formulaic. Without exaggeration, Jan goes through Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in _every_ _single_ book. There aren’t a lot of surprises about what happens. Will the unicorns regain their last homelands from the wyverns? Would I spoil anything telling you?
Instead, the setting, the use of language and the character development are reason to read these books and those are three very good reasons. As I already mentioned, the world building is great and Pierce has a wonderful, lyrical voice that carries through the series.
And the character development is very strong. Jan doesn’t just go through dramatic experiences. He also goes through dramatic changes. The Jan at the start of third book is a far cry from the Jan at the start of the first book and we got to see how he got there.
And the other main character, Tek, might not change as much as Jan but is still a fully realized character. And she has to overcome more dire obstacles than Jan does once she gets to be a POV character. In the second book, her plot about surviving the unicorn king going insane is the strongest part of the whole series.
From what I have read, this series has spent a lot of time out of print. Which is a shame because it should be a classic.