Review: The Unicorn Thief (Unicorns of the Mist #2) by R.R. Russell

Review: The Unicorn Thief (Unicorns of the Mist #2) by R.R. RussellThe Unicorn Thief by R. R. Russell
Series: Unicorns of the Mist #2
Published by Sourcebooks, Incorporated on 2014-05-01
Pages: 256
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Twig and Ben are hard at work taming the last free unicorn heard on Lonehorn Island when Ben's loyal unicorn, Indy, disappears. When their search leads them to the island's secret passageway of Terracornus, the land of unicorns, they discover a bold thief at work. There Twig learns the tangled truth about Ben and the evil Queen who's enslaved all of the unicorns. Now all of the captive unicorns are in danger and only Ben and Twig, the last unicorn riders, can save them.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Unicorn Thief, the second of R.R. Russell’s Unicorns of the Mist series, picks up in medias res immediately after the closing pages of Wonder LightI appreciate middle grade series that do this if only because you don’t have to waste time reading many paragraphs rehashing the earlier book. There is the obligatory “last week on Unicorns of the Mist…” type of paragraph but it is concise and does its job well.

We learn more about Terracornus and the Queen this time around. Ben has a few secrets of his own. Adults can easily divine these secrets but I think they’re hidden enough to surprise most middle-grade readers. We won’t talk about how I’m almost 29 and still read middle-grade novels. Nothing to see here, folks …

The family tension shifts from Twig to Ben in The Unicorn Thief. Ben struggles with his secret, his father’s death, and trying to figure out how to carry out his goals without getting himself killed, getting Twig killed, or disappointing the people he loves. It’s a tough situation to juggle. There are moments when he is so close to emotionally breaking down but is saved at the last-minute by a kind word from Twig. I do wish Russell had allowed him to succumb to his emotions. I think young readers (especially boys) could benefit from reading about male characters who  make it OK to cry. It would go a long way in breaking down those gender stereotypes often inscribed at a young age. It’s obvious that Ben is thoughtful and courageous. It would have been nice to see him emotionally vulnerable too.

I think The Unicorn Thief is more Ben’s story than Twig’s. We see plenty of Twig but she only struggles with how to tell her father that she’s a herder. I wanted more interior conflict from her (and for her). Her character is so powerful in Wonder Light that I can’t help but feel that her character lets me down in The Unicorn Thief. But alas.

Maybe the problem is that the story is just too big. The narrative succumbs to the show, don’t tell problem simply because there’s so much story to tell in such a short amount of time. One of the reasons why I love John Flanagan’s The Ranger’s Apprentice series so much is because he’s able to create a deep, narrative driven story that fully fleshes out the details of his world and his characters. He can do this because each book is a microcosm, examining one problem per book. It’s very easy to overshoot scope in middle-grade writing. If we create stories that are too large, we run the risk of losing the development that makes a story great. If we try to write all the things, the book ends up being too long and we’ve missed the target market. It’s a balancing act that Russell doesn’t *quite* manage. The Murley’s are a great example here. The little twist at the end might have been more poignant if we could see the decision from their POV. Rather than show us, she tells us.

In the end, The Unicorn Thief doesn’t quite live up to the promise set by Wonder Light. The story is good but the narrative scope is just too big for one middle-grade book. There’s too much ground to cover in too short a time.

three-stars

© 2014 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.