|Cynthia Joyce Clay: The Romance of the Unicorn|
Oestara Publishing (Trade Paperback), ISBN 1594577773
The Romance of the Unicorn by Cynthia Joyce Clay begins with a refrigerator that curses its owner and ends with dragons rescuing the besieged capital city of a fairy realm. In between, the seer Elayne travels through the magical door in the back of her refrigerator (not the same one that cursed her) in search of a cure for her beloved Siamese cat, who suddenly became a troll. Elayne, not a woman to be cowed by magical refrigerators or shapeshifting cats, embarks on a quest to save her cat, free an imprisoned queen and perform all the other duties required of a heroine in a magical tale.
Clay shows considerable courage for mixing such traditional fantasy elements as trolls and dragons with something as banal as a refrigerator. Unfortunately, such daring simply doesn't work in her story. Clay gives no satisfactory explanation for how or why a refrigerator would lay a curse, or why the refrigerator possesses the ability while the washing machine, for example, does not. Nor does she explain why the curse leads to Elayne crossing into the magical realm.
Once on the other side, the mixing of fantasy elements continues. Greek myths of Scylla and Minos meld with English folktale elements such as Puck and Oberon and even a little touch of the Arabian Nights with the use of flying carpets. If that weren't enough, Clay throws in reincarnation and past lives for good measure. Ferris wheels and flush toilets in a world where men fight with swords and long bows complete the package.
Perhaps Clay could've pulled off the mix with a more vivid protagonist. Elayne, however, fails to develop a distinct personality. She moves through the opening chapters without showing any strong emotions. Her cat becomes a troll, a birthday cake complete with candles disappears from her refrigerator, and her boyfriend dumps her. All these events she absorbs without evident distress. Even being reunited with her long-lost father at a sumptuous royal feast in the magical realm found through the back of her refrigerator elicits no real emotion. Elayne remains an unsatisfactory character, who reacts to events around her instead of driving the action.
Clay gives everything a writer could give in a novel and ultimately suffers from trying too hard. Too many elements from too many fantasy genres fill the pages of her book. She tries to write epic fantasy, folklore, and magical realism all at the same time. New creatures and magics appear at convenient moments in the book because they solve a plot problem, regardless of whether they make sense. Characters remain undeveloped, and the magical realm never establishes its own sense of place. Readers should look elsewhere.
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