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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Wandering Unicorn - Manuel Mujica Lainez

The Wandering Unicorn is the tale of Melusine, a fairy once married to a medieval French knight, and therefore founder of the house of Lusignan. Due to a curse, she must take the form of a woman with a serpent’s body, and has been chased away from her beloved Raymondin. Though she can no longer interact with her husband, and then their descendants, in the flesh, she has stayed with the family castle, and watched the family grow and prosper. The book is written from the present time, as Melusine looks back over her life, most notably, during the time of the Crusades, when she left the castle and travelled with one of her descendants to the Holy Land.

This is an interesting book. It actually reads mostly as a straight historical fiction book, except that the narrator happens to be a fairy. Melusine isn’t much able to interfere with the lives of those she observes, so the action is fairly straight-forward knights and courtly love.

The most interesting part of this book is the part that takes place in the court of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the Leper King. This part of the book works the fictional protagonists into actual historic events, and was fascinating. I’m not that familiar with the Christian kingdoms of the Holy Land that were established during the Crusades, and it was really interesting to get a flavor for that time period.

This is a really fascinating book. It’s in translation, but even so, has wonderfully evocative language, and paints a fascinating picture of medieval times. It’s also a truly fascinating examination of love, and what love can accomplish, as well as destroy. I’d recommend it even to non-fantasy readers, because Melusine being a fairy is really just a device to forward this story, and it stands almost entirely as great historical fiction.

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