Ace, 389 pgs.
Finding out that Ace had done a reprint of Ariel was a gleeful sort of shock. It’s a very, very hard book to find used copies of, and has always been a long time favorite. I was in fifth grade when I first read it. Those of you familiar with the sex and violence in the book may gasp in horror now. I’ll give you a minute. (No, my parents never knew that some of the books I was reading at that age tended to have a lot of sex and violence in them. To mom and dad, it was fantasy and therefore freakish, but harmless, and in Ariel’s case, the book had a unicorn on the cover.)
A quick and flippant synopsis of the book is “A Boy and His Unicorn Meet a Man and His Dog: Things Happen.” The setting is a relative rarity; the post-apocalyptic fantasy, and the characters are a combination of complicated, interesting and annoying. (They are very “human” characters that way. No real heroes in this book, not even the protagonists and the survivalist samurai type, Malachi Lee.)
Our Hero is one Pete Garey, a young man with a bad combination of survivor’s defensiveness and poor social skills. A former college student who has spent the past five years living by his wits, his life changes for–well actually, it pretty much doesn’t change at all, except for having a Familiar in the form of Our Heroine, a unicorn named Ariel. She’s one of a multitude of magical creatures that came to life in the wake of a mysterious event known only as The Change. Together, they fight evil necromancers. Badly.
During a trip to Atlanta, Pete and Ariel discover that a necromancer in New York has put a price on Ariel’s head–or rather, her horn. They also make a very valuable friend in the form of Malachi Lee, an martial arts enthusiast who is something of a born again samurai. After teaching Pete swordsmanship and utterly failing to pass on the attendant honor code that goes with it, they’re attacked by people interested in earning the bounty on Ariel’s horn.
Malachi Lee decides to play questing knight and goes after the necromancer in New York, who it turns out, is trying to build a kingdom and sending people out to extort food and supplies from people in the surrounding area. Pete and Ariel decide to follow Malachi (despite being told to run west). On the way to New York they pick up a girl named Shaughnessy, and Pete discovers that he has hormones, which becomes problematic for the obvious reasons.
Of course, Ariel and Pete get captured by the necromancer’s evil minions. Pete is able to escape but Ariel isn’t, and will have a very short life expectancy since unicorns and captivity are not the two great tastes that taste great together. Pete gets found by the good guys, a colony of craftspeople who have banded together to fight the necromancy. Pete joins them for a chance to rescue Ariel, and eventually learns lessons related to the idea that the world doesn’t in fact revolve around him (or his unicorn).
I have had bits and scenes of this book stuck in my head for years now. It’s cynical, bleak, optimistic and idealistic, somehow all at once. Ariel is a great adventure story, and for plot related reasons is something of a time capsule. (Those of you who have read it already know what I’m talking about. Those who don’t can find out by grabbing a copy and finding out for yourself.) It should also be noted that there’s going to be a sequel coming out soon called Elegy Beach.
(Unable to find the book on Powell’s!)