Published by Harmony Ink Press on April 21st 2016
Source: Author Review Copy
Genres: Fantasy, LGBT, Romance, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.
Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.
I’ve never read a YA novel that’s set in Africa or an African-inspired fantasy setting and I’m glad that Unicorn Tracks includes just that. Unicorn Tracks is a short fantasy read with lots of mythical, magical creatures, including unicorns! It’s a story of female friendship/romance and adventure.
The first thing that I noticed about this book was the rich African-inspired setting. I don’t know very much about African culture or geography and I was immediately intrigued. Because of my lack of knowledge, I actually thought that the novel was set in real places in Africa and was completely unaware that this was a fantasy or made-up setting. After becoming aware of this fact, I started to enjoy the setting a little bit less, not because it wasn’t good, but because I didn’t get a good sense of when this book was set. The book actually feels quite contemporary but there were also some very historical elements (which obviously made a lot more sense when I figured out it was fantasy). But because of my uncertainty, it felt like the world building wasn’t as strong as it could have been. Having said that, I did really enjoy the setting and thought it was unique to a lot of YA books that I’ve read before.
I really enjoyed the plot of the book but thought that it could have benefitted from having an extra 100+ pages. Goodreads tells me that this novel is 180 pages long and it definitely felt very short. There was a lot of great set up in the first half of the book with the main characters finding out that poachers have been torturing and exploiting unicorns (HOW DARE THEY?!) and devising ways to end this mistreatment. However, when it came to the second of the book, I thought it was a little bit lacking. While it wasn’t rushed, I felt like there were a lot of things that were resolved too easily and everything seemed to go according to plan and it just lacked tension for me. The climax of the book was much too short for my liking and I would’ve liked a lot more action. I definitely think that the plot could have been much stronger if the novel had been longer.
I really liked the incorporation of mythical creatures. There were lots of unicorns, which made me insanely happy, as well as mermaids, chimeras and phoenixes. There’s a guide to these creatures at the back of the book, written by one of the characters in the book and I really appreciated that. I would have liked if we had seen a little bit more of the creatures within the story because it felt like they were mentioned very briefly but not really expanded on. But overall, I was really satisfied with all the animals in the book, especially when they were really sassy.
The white pony bit me again, and I cursed. Riding a miniature beast with an attitude problem into a savanna full of predators was not part of the plan.
My biggest issue with the book were the characters and romance. We really only follow Mnemba and Kara throughout the novel but there were lots of side characters mentioned. I thought the side characters were really interesting and would have liked to have seen them a lot more in the story. I loved Mnemba’s cousin, Tumelo, who was incredibly funny and it was a little sad that he had such little page time. When it came to Mnemba and Kara, I did like Mnemba and thought she was relatable. I enjoyed her backstory and her fears when it came to developing relationships with other people, especially after what had happened to her in the past. But I didn’t like Kara at all. I thought she was extremely reckless and annoying in her recklessness. I just couldn’t connect with her and I thought all of her decisions were terrible.
I also wasn’t able to get on board with the romance. While I really appreciated that Unicorn Tracks has a lesbian romance, and was drawn to the book because of this, I have to say that I didn’t think the romance was necessary in this story. I actually would have preferred it if it wasn’t there at all. Firstly, I thought it was extremely insta-lovey, or at least insta-crushy. From the very first time that they meet, Mnemba just has constant tingles running through her body every time their eyes meet or they touch. The number of times “warmth” and “charges of energy” traveled up her arm was a bit ridiculous. I didn’t feel that the romance added anything to the story or to Mnemba’s character development, despite the fact that it was probably intended to resolve some of Mnemba’s issues with her past. I just thought that the romance and relationship wasn’t well-developed and was resolved in a very convenient manner, and seemed separate from what was going on in the story.
Unicorn Tracks is a unique story that occurs in a setting that is rarely seen in YA. It has lots of wonderful elements that make it a book that you should definitely pick up, including the wonderful African-inspired world, unicorns and mythical creatures and Julia Ember’s beautiful writing. While I personally didn’t enjoy it, there is also a lesbian romance, which I feel is also not represented a lot in YA. If any of these elements intrigues you at all, I highly recommend picking this novel up!
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you to the author for sending me a review copy of the book.
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