unicorn tracksUnicorn Tracks
by Julia Ember

Published by: Harmony Ink Press

Format: mobi

Genre: YA, Fantasy, F/F Romance

Order at: Amazon

Reviewed by: Abbi

What to expect: A deep and beautiful world. So many mythological creatures. Characters you can root for. A VILLAIN WITH KNIVES FOR TEETH.

Plot: When a vicious assault compels sixteen-year-old Mnemba to leave her village, she joins her cousin Tumelo as a tracker in his booming safari business. It doesn’t take her long to become one of the best safari guides in Nazwimbe. Her work allows her to escape into a new world of wondrous creatures, and to avoid thinking about what happened at home.

When Mr. Harving arrives with his daughter Kara to research unicorns, Tumelo assigns Mnemba to them as a guide. The attraction between Mnemba and Kara is almost instant, but Kara is engaged to be married when she returns home. Venturing into the savanna alone, they uncover a plot by a gang of poachers to enslave the unicorns, harnessing their supernatural strength to build a railway. They must save the creatures Kara loves while struggling not to succumb to forbidden love themselves.

Review: This book is awesome. I’m getting that sentiment out of the way immediately. There will be a lot of caps lock in this review because it’s great and I need to express myself properly with exaggerated type. Not only is Unicorn Tracks set in a world that’s vivid and gorgeous, even within the first couple of pages, the author confidently builds on the reader’s good will to add something that makes everything that much more fantastical. Our heroine could be journeying through the savanna and come across a herd of zebras…and then turn around to see that a chimera has been stalking her, preparing to pounce. She could be chilling in a stream to cool off…and then hastily pull herself out of the water because there’s a mermaid sitting prettily on a nearby rock, and those things will STRIP YOUR FLESH FROM YOUR BONES IN A MATTER OF SECONDS.

Every several pages, Mnemba, our protagonist, will come across some great fictional creature, and she treats these encounters no differently than the ones she has with regular animals that we’re already accustomed to. These nonchalant mentions can seem random and jarring, but in the best way possible; the world feels so vibrant and lived in, and it’s exciting whenever we’re introduced to a new kind of animal. It’s for this reason that Kara, a researcher from a faraway land, makes such a great surrogate for the audience; she’s so palpably awed by the things she sees in Nazwimbe, and that translates wonderfully to us—the readers—as we trek along with her.

Another huge strength of Unicorn Tracks is how well two very different cultures are examined and analyzed throughout. In what is a very short book, the world-building is masterfully woven into the narrative. It’s the little things that make all the difference; the smattering of Swahili adds spice to what is already a rich and vivid setting.

The romance between Mnemba and Kara is a huge part of the book. But while cute and often endearing, I think it was a bit weak compared to everything else, though it could be because my personal taste tends to skew in the opposite direction of what is presented in Unicorn Tracks. I like slow building romance that is wrought with UST, but in this book, we only get tiny instances of tension that don’t last very long. Sure, Kara is engaged to be married, and that’s supposed to really drive home the taboo of her and Mnemba falling for each other, but it doesn’t work for me. It’s not exactly abnormal for two people to be immediately, mutually attracted to one another, but it is weird to read about them making out in a tent only a day or so after meeting each other. What it boils down to is a lack of catharsis. Because Mnemba and Kara care for each other so soon, there’s not as much room for their relationship to grow and evolve as there could be.

But despite how the previous paragraph may look, it’s only a small critique when taken in the context of the rest of the book. Everything else is fantastic, so it’s easy to brush off the things that don’t work in order to enjoy the story as a whole. If you decide to buy it, Unicorn Tracks will be worth every penny.

What you might not like: Mnemba’s backstory includes rape, which I know can be a turn-off for some. However, I think that aspect adds some needed nuance to her and Kara’s relationship, and is easily the best part of it. It isn’t gratuitous in the slightest, and adds a thoughtful, respectful, realistic view into how some may have trouble with intimacy after surviving trauma.

What you will love: I’m just going to gush about some things I couldn’t fit in the main review. Without further ado—

  • The prose. THE PROSE. It’s straightforward and not overly purple, but such a joy to read. Figurative language is a strong suit. There’s a line in the beginning that still sticks with me, comparing oozing pus to goat’s cheese. Disgusting but effectively so.
  • This is such a small thing, but the antagonist’s canine teeth aren’t teeth at all, but tiny blades. WHAT?! Mnemba wonders how he can chew without cutting his mouth. I choose to believe it’s because he’s JUST THAT HARD. Clearly, the death metal gods have smiled down on this one.
  • The relationship between Mnemba and her cousin Tumelo is so fun. So sibling-y that it’s believable as soon as we first see them together.
  • There is a baby unicorn, and it has fuzz on its horn. ACTUAL BABY FUZZ. Need I explain why you will love this?
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