Ever since I was introduced to the Last Unicorn living alone in her lilac woods, Peter Beagle has been one of my all-time favorite authors and my go-to writer for unicorn stories. Over the years, he has revisited the magical beast that made him famous with his book, The Unicorn Sonata, a sequel to The Last Unicorn entitled Two Hearts, and as an editor for The Immortal Unicorn anthologies, (which incidentally contain the best short story ever written, Peter Beagle’s Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros). I always enjoy Peter’s work – not just the unicorn books – but since I never completely out-grew that unicorn-crazy phase I went through in my pre-teen years, I was especially looking forward to getting my hands on Peter’s latest unicorn story, In Calabria.
SUMMERY: In Calabria tells the story of a curmudgeonly, old farmer, Bianchi, who lives on a tiny farm in Italy, too far from anything to be a tourist attraction, and spends his days tending to his cows, writing poetry, and basically living a solitary, 19th century life while ignoring the modern world around him. But when a pregnant unicorn chooses to have her baby on his farm, Bianchi’s quiet existence comes to an abrupt end as reporters, tourists, animal rights activists, hunters and gangsters descend on him.
MY THOUGHTS: First things first, I know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover art on the hardcover edition of this book is beyond gorgeous! I have a stunning, leather-bound Easton Press edition of The Last Unicorn and In Calabria can more than hold its own on the bookshelf next to it.
And I really enjoyed what was inside the book as well. One of the great things about Peter Beagle’s work is how he can create a totally new world for each book. If another author kept coming back to unicorns time and time again, I would probably get a little bored after a while, but each of Peter’s unicorn books have such a distinct flavor and tone to them that he never seems to retread the same ground. In this book, there is a focus on time and the reader gets a sense of several different eras converging on each other, with Bianchi’s old-world life (and his inability to let go of the past) colliding with the modern world – both in the form of threatening mobsters and his unexpected, (and rather sweet), romance with the postman’s sister – and then both the old and the modern contrasted with the agelessness of the unicorns. The setting of a small mountain village in Italy, the cover art featuring a classic image from the Unicorn tapestries, and the little smatterings of Italian scattered throughout the dialogue all reinforce the sense of a medieval fable brought into a modern story.
All in all, I really enjoyed In Calabria and highly recommend it for fantasy fans who enjoy timeless stories of magic found in unexpected places.