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The Well of the Unicorn

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  649 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
Robbed of lands and heritage by the rapacious Vulkings, young Airar Alvarson had only his limited gift for sorcery to aid him against a world of savage intrigues. Then he met a mysterious sorcerer and was given a strange iron ring -- a ring that led him into a futile conspiracy and soon had him fleeing for his life.
Driven by enchantments and destiny, he found himself leadi
Mass Market Paperback, 388 pages
Published October 1979 by Del Rey (first published 1948)
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John McDonald
Aug 05, 2007 John McDonald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of George RR Martin, Ursula LeGuin, and other atypical fantasty authors
Shelves: fiction, borrowed
Considered one of the foundational works of fantasy literature, The Well of the Unicorn is likely to challenge the assumptions of readers well-versed in the latter day tropes of the genre. Sure, there's your standard farmboy-of-destiny, a wizard, princesses, battles, and even icy demons that infect people with deadly, hideous laughter; but anyone looking for pure escapism will be disappointed. Pratt is more interested in using his story to explore philosophy, politics, human nature, and (surpris ...more
Jan 07, 2008 Kelly rated it really liked it
The cover on my copy is way better than the cheeseball cover shown here on Goodreads. This book is considered one of the first modern epic fantasies; it was published six years before The Lord of the Rings. And boy howdy, is it dark. Like the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, this book operates on more than one level: on one level, it's a great epic story that would make one hell of a kick-ass CGI blockbuster, with sea demons and embittered mercenaries and scary dark towers galore. On ...more
Dec 27, 2008 Derek rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a challenging read from the point of view of theme, style, and plot. It's deliberately written in a pseudo-archaic form, tackles some deep philosophical issues about government and rulership, and details the political and military machinations of a continent. Sort of A Game of Thrones by way of E. R. Eddison. All in less than 400 pages, of course.

The modest beginning was deceptive, leading me to believe it a bildungsroman of the main character, who was unwillingly set loose in the world
Simon Mcleish
Nov 21, 2012 Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in June 2001.

Lester del Rey considered this forgotten novel "the best piece of epic fantasy ever written". This is overstating things, particularly given the way in which the genre has evolved in sophistication since it was published, but there is certainly something more to it than most of its contemporaries.

The basic plot is fairly typical of the genre. After an invasion of his native country of Dalarna, Airar Alvarson is unable to pay the increased taxes d
Apr 16, 2009 Simon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I overcame my dislike of the cover of this book, that I would never have picked up had it not been part of the fantasy masterworks series. Although it does depict a scene in the story, thankfully it is quite out of context and doesn't really give you any idea as to what to expect within.

And what we have is one man's story of his rise to prominence within the revolutionary movement attempting to throw off the reign of the oppressive Vulkings. In addition to his travels and fighting from one end o
Mar 26, 2017 Yve rated it did not like it
Shelves: sff, 20th-century, 1940s
The first time I tried to read this book, I abandoned it after ~60 pages. I had the same exact feelings this second time around, but soldiered through because after all I did kind of like the Harold Shea stories that Pratt cowrote and this novel seems to be highly regarded. But The Well of the Unicorn... it's one of the most pointlessly confusing beginnings to a novel that I've ever read. Airar is "taxed out" of his home, then forced into the least magical meeting with a wizard ever, then someho ...more
I know Fletcher Pratt from his collaborations with L. Sprague de Camp on the "Harold Shea" stories, in which a psychologist uses symbolic logic to travel to other realities(!), each of which is patterned after some pre-existing myth or fictional universe. They're light stories, lovingly parodic of their source material.

By contrast, though The Well of the Unicorn vaguely borrows its fantasy world from a Dunsany play (as Pratt says in the intro, he projects the history of that world several genera
Jun 21, 2011 Aaron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a superior fantasy novel in many ways. The casting of magic has drawbacks, the war scenes are intense and brutal, the romance is not simplistic, and the politics are fully realized. Unfortunately it is this last positive that too often became a negative. Long scenes consisting of arguments over policy and war tactics soon became the focus of each chapter. Character development that had been at the forefront took a backseat to long round table discussions that were interesting at first bu ...more
Mar 16, 2013 Jos rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
The Well of the Unicorn is an early heroic fantasy novel with glaring weaknesses but still worth reading.
I rarely read a book that weak in exposition. Readers are constantly confronted with unexplained facts and names that partly are explained somewhere else later but enough things are left unattended. Was this published as a serial novel? That could at least explain how these faults have passed an editor.
The development of the plot and the characters is not very plausible. What is it that makes
Silvio Curtis
Oct 01, 2014 Silvio Curtis rated it really liked it
An early twentieth-century fantasy published at the same time as Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings. It shows a strong tendency in the direction of Tolkien's careful construction of a "secondary world," especially in geography and political-military history; the front of the book has a map like the ones typical of post-Tolkien fantasy, and the map really is important for the plot, which ranges all over it. Of course he doesn't have Tolkien's linguistics; the proper names, depending on reg ...more
Jan 26, 2015 Richard rated it it was ok
Fletcher Pratt's series of collaborations with L. Sprague De Camp are justly famous for the engaing series of tales dealing with Harold Shea. The two would work out the outline of the story together, De Camp would then write the first draft, Pratt the final draft and De Camp would add final touches to Pratt's version. It was a method that worked well and these stories are still very enjoyable.

"The Well of the Unicorn" is a fantasy novel by Pratt alone and was originally published in 1948 under
Dec 04, 2013 Sean rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this a great deal and devoured it in relatively short order. What prevents me from five-starring this is a lack of strong characterization and somewhat unsatisfying story arc.

I will say that I enjoyed the writing. Missing characterization is made up for by insight and poetical rhetoric. I enjoyed the dynamic of the wizard advisor and the war leader, which borrowed some Arthurian tones but was more satisfying to me in this reading. I plan to revisit this book at a later date in order to
Aug 08, 2010 D-day rated it liked it
It took me two attempts to read this. It is, in fact, a pretty good book; good world building and realistic takes on the problems of government, rebellion and war. The problem is the writing style is very difficult to read. It is written in a kind of psuedo-archaic style that made me give up after a chapter or two. I tried again a few months later and just powered through. I eventually got used to the style and ended up liking the book. It is a classic of the genre, which is why I gave it a seco ...more
Closely written account of how a man begins in rebellion from good motives, gradually acquiring dubious allies of more cruelty than those they overthrow, moving to a state of constant strife.

Re-read May 2012 - I enjoy the philosophising and would benefit hugely from reading some critical commentary on whether the Well is a good thing or not. Its means of preventing strife seem quite questionable, as do the motives of many a character. Not the easiest of reads, you do have to pay quite close atte
Nov 02, 2010 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
An amazing epic; dark, thoughtful, occasionally disturbing and horrific, and written in a style all its own. It was published several years before The Lord of the Rings, and could not be more different from from it, apart from the fact that both conjure such vivid, familiar but alien worlds. I've heard about this book for years, but only got around to reading in this year, and will probably re-read it as much as I have LotR.
Howard Curzer
Mar 21, 2014 Howard Curzer rated it really liked it
"The reader is not introduced to this world in easy stages; it is a going concern when the reader arrives on the scene and he is expected to find his way around in it by the same process of keeping his mouth shut and his eyes and ears open that he is frequently forced to use when he takes a new job or mores to a new community." - Fletcher Pratt
I like books that do this. That is why I sometimes skip the first volume of a multi-volume series.
Keith Davis
Nov 29, 2009 Keith Davis rated it really liked it
A surprisingly complex Fantasy novel complete in one volume. If it were written today it would probably be stretched out to at least seven volumes. Pratt delves into the political complexities behind the Fantasy adventure, and our hero sacrifices his happiness and those of his friends and loved ones in order to achieve the goals he believes his father would have wanted him to achieve.
Ryan Buck
Nov 09, 2013 Ryan Buck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cadence took me awhile before I got it flowing. Magnificent otherwise. A world with working plumbing. Can you ask for more from epic fantasy?
Feb 27, 2008 Jeffrey rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
classic fantasy. Should be read as a menas ot understand some of the basic ideas in fantasy.
Jul 25, 2011 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oddball, pre-Tolkien classic. Pretty dark and gritty for high fantasy.
Bob Rust
Jun 10, 2016 Bob Rust rated it it was amazing
The Well of the Unicorn (1948) a Bildungsroman set in a world subtly irradiated by magic.
William Herbst
May 25, 2012 William Herbst rated it liked it
Above average fantasy novel. I forget much if the specifics but enjoyed the discussion of siege warfare.
Mar 21, 2015 Eeiko rated it did not like it
Boring and written too strangely.
Jun 30, 2009 DavidO rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Didn't start well, so I didn't get far.
Jul 30, 2013 Rich rated it liked it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Written before the genre got established, this book is refreshingly fresh due to its absence of fantasy cliches. But not exactly a page turner. I petered out before finishing.
Bernard Wright
Bernard Wright rated it liked it
Mar 01, 2017
James Jennings
James Jennings rated it really liked it
Nov 03, 2013
Wayong rated it liked it
Apr 21, 2014
Timothy Reynolds
Timothy Reynolds rated it really liked it
Jun 28, 2013
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Murray Fletcher Pratt (1897–1956) was a science fiction and fantasy writer; he was also well-known as a writer on naval history and on the American Civil War.

Pratt attended Hobart College for one year. During the 1920s he worked for the Buffalo Courier-Express and on a Staten Island newspaper. In the late 1920s he began selling stories to pulp magazines. When a fire gutted his apartment in the 193
More about Fletcher Pratt...

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