They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. You can't see it too well in the pic, but this edition is actually an iridescent pink-purple that shimmers. I picked it up because I read Scarborough's work in an anthology of science-fiction, and she was the only author whose story I gave 5*. The shiny pink cover and cozy cover art made me think I was going to be getting a delightfully fluffy faerie tale retelling, maybe in the vein of Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series.
You shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
This was a "stealth read," which means that I read it without adding it to Goodreads first, and didn't post any status updates. Had I added it to Goodreads, my status updates would have been growing increasingly unhappy and dismayed with what I was reading.
Here's the basic premise: Rose is a social worker who wants to do good in the world and save children from bad situations. She lives in Seattle, and as with most big cities, there's a lot of crime and other bad stuff. One day, in her friend's curiosity shop, she spies a crystal necklace that's supposed to be good for wishes or magic or something (I forget), and jokes to her friend that she wishes someone would "save the whole damn city." Enter Felicity Fortune, fairy godmother extraordinaire, who plans to do just that.
In THE GODMOTHER, Scarborough modernizes and synthesizes several faerie tales to fit the narrative, including a homeless teen whose luck changes when he meets a talking cat (Puss in Boots); a rebellious former drug addict with a rock star father whose jealous model stepmother is trying to murder her (Snow White); and a girl who works in a stable whose greedy relatives are doing their best to get her fired from her job, as well as disinherited from her father's will (Cinderella). There's also a Vietnamese kid who came from a refugee camp and while at first he counted his good fortune, his bitterness has corrupted him and now he steals and is part of a gang (I am not familiar with the faerie tale that this was based on, but the "goddess" he referred to was Kwan Yin which seems to be an alternate spelling of Guanyin, an enlightened figure in the Buddhist religion).
All of this would have been fine, except for the "Hansel and Gretel" retelling: a child molester who ends up getting his hands on two kids whose selfish mother keeps trying to ditch them since her new boyfriend hates kids. There are few things that I absolutely cannot stand to read about, and will actually affect my rating in a negative way, but two absolutes are children being abused and having this abuse written about in a graphic way, and animal abuse and torture. And man, this book is graphic. The child molester in this book sexually assaults and tortures these poor kids, and we're treated to an absolutely gruesome scene that tells us what he's done with some of the others.
I know stuff like this happens, and it's awful, and it's so important that people be made aware of the reality of abuse so they can stand against it. But there's a time and a place, and it just felt so unnecessary here. Especially with that deceptively innocent cover and the quirky, oh-so-adorable summary on the back cover. "She is Rose's wish come true. She shines a light of hope on this city of lost souls. And she lives in every heart that ever dared to dream..." P.S. RAPE, TORTURE, AND DISMEMBERMENT AWAITS THOSE INSIDE! HAVE FUN! I so did not sign up for that.
Scarborough is a good writer, but this is not her best. If you want faerie tale retellings, you would be far better off sticking with Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms or Elemental Masters series. I see that there are two more books in this series, and I'm not sure if I'll read them. I love the premise behind these books but if they're as dark as this one was... yeah, no thanks. :|
This is either the best worst book I ever read, or the worst best book I ever read. First, the new cover doesn't do this book justice at all. What's with the 1920s-style hairdos and outfits? It made me think this was going to be some lame period piece a la, "Oh, darling, I'll never forget that one summer in Tuscany, the one where we were both as wild and as free as wild horses! Truly, my love, it was the summer... THE SUMMER OF THE UNICORN!"
Yeahhhh, no. I'll do anything for love, but I won't do that.
But I'm as basic as they come, and one thing us basic girls love is unicorns, and when I saw the word 'unicorn' in the title as I was gleefully scrolling for and requesting Netgalley ARCs, I one-clicked that book without even reading the summary. Because I like to live dangerously. Then I changed my mind and decided to let my ARC expire, but first I went to Goodreads to check out the summary... AND I SAW THAT GLORIOUS BEAUTY THAT YOU SEE BEFORE YOU!
Holy cover art, Batman! Was this that holy grail of romance wtfery? An 80s romance?
YOU BET YOUR BLACK LATEX SHIRT IT WAS, BATMAN.
Forget letting this precious slip through my fingers. I set aside The Chronicles of Celery, Queen of the Sues, and read this like I was doing the Richard Simmons version of reading, with a one, and a two, and a three, TURN THE PAGE, and finished it within a matter of hours. Oh, don't get me wrong. It was baaaad. But it was the kind of bad that is so utterly entertaining that it becomes the standard of bad to which all books aspire. Truly, my friends, this is The Room of romance novels.
So what's it about? Two princes, fighting over a throne, on a planet called "Rubicon." Their names are Boran (which sounds a lot like Borat, which I am going to call him for now on) and Hunter, which is a fairly common name, so I'm going to call him Basic Bro. The rules of inheritance state that the firstborn gets the throne but since Borat's mother was the only witness to his birth, that's a contested matter. Also, nobody really likes Borat that much. He's mean to his concubines (who all lust after Basic Bro's manly, yet utterly considerate touch), likes to hurt people for fun, and oh, part of him was burned in a fire so he has scars, and everyone knows that if someone in a romance novel (or a soap opera, or a telenovela) has a scar, that's basically the equivalent of a bright neon sign that says, "THIS PERSON RIGHT HERE, THEY'RE THE EVIL ONE. AVOID." And, as with warning signs in real life, idiots cheerfully disregards them until it is Too Late.
To resolve this matter, the council on Rubicon decide that the brothers must go out into the world to bring back proof that unicorns exist and the one who does will get the throne. So Borat and BB get on space-ships and go to another planet(!) in order to find unicorns. Which is ridiculous, I know. I love it. BB goes to this place that I believe was called Styx, where there is a man who has found the unicorns but at terrible cost: he is now haunted and also minus one tongue, because when he killed the unicorn to get its horn, something attacked him in kind. The Keeper of the unicorns: a powerful, magical woman who is rumored to be immortal, & guards the unicorns' lives as if they were her own.
BB goes to the unicorn planet, where he promptly falls off a cliff and almost dies (LOL). He is saved by the Unicorn Woman, who is named Siri. Yes, like the phone. I love that, so she's just going to be Siri, but please imagine everything she says being said in Robot Siri's voice like I did if you choose to read this book, because it becomes ESPECIALLY funny during the parts where she refers to herself in the third person. Siri knows that he came here for the unicorns and doesn't understand why she saved him (dude, because he's hot). Many arguments ensue, about whether or not to bang (only virgins can communicate and protect the unicorns), but also about whether it's good to reveal the existence of the unicorns because "good" people don't need to see them in order to appreciate what they represent, and "bad" people will want to kill them and harness their magic for themselves.
MEANWHILE, Borat has assembled a team of Huntsmen but he also thinks Siri is hot. So he uses his evil magic amulet to psychically roofie her, forcing her to do sexual things with him and then blanking her mind out later. All the while, he giggles evilly to himself about how he's going to force her to sleep with him under this magic spell, making her think she's doing some hot, angelic dude, and then at the moment of climax, when her virginity is no more, he's going to let her see who he really is - and then he's either going to kill her or make her his queen, he hasn't decided. All he knows is that he wants her magical virginity powers for himself (no, seriously, he says something that is basically to that effect, in almost those words), and that the unicorns must die for his benefit.
This psychodrama spans 250 pages, and it drags like nobody's business, because between all the masturbatory villain scheming (sometimes literal masturbation being involved as he plots), Sexy Naked Baths, to-bang-or-not-to-bang philosophizing, and UNICORN passages(!), not that much happens. Borat is really the driving force behind this novel, because he's so deliciously evil that this feeling of dread totally overshadows all the unicorn frolicking. Also, the mythology of this world is weird AF. Siri is the daughter of a mermaid and a mortal man, has psychic powers, lives in a valley where there is an OCEAN inside of the nearby mountain, and in addition to unicorns, sand cats, panda bears, dragons, and Arctic wolves also live in this place, and all in harmony, besides.
ALSO, in a surprise Planet of the Apes-esque twist, it turns out that the Unicorn Planet is actually Earth. The same planet Borat and BB's people fled 10,000 years ago after they destroyed it. WHAT A SHOCK! Primarily because, to my knowledge, we don't have any ocean-filled mountains. But what do I know, I'm not a geologist. Maybe this is some super secret bit of info only geologists know.
What I do know is that this book is weird AF and also pretty terrible. The twist at the end, the deus ex machina regarding BB and Siri's consummation, the unicorn dances, the naked sexy baths, the psychic roofies, the evil magic amulets, the virginity magic, and also Siri's mermaid mom who lives in the ocean-filled mountain were just huge piles of whip on this wtfery sundae. Even funnier is the fact that Kay Hooper now writes romantic suspense novels, and appears to have distanced herself from the fantasy and paranormal novels that she wrote in the 80s and 90s. From what I have observed, they appear to be rarely mentioned or read by her fans, and several are out of print.
Despite its awfulness, I enjoyed this book. Fantasy bodice rippers are somewhat rare, and their covers are often glorious (just check out this cover for ENCHANTED PARADISE, which looks like a Lisa Frank-themed porno shoot). I'm glad that more and more authors these days are releasing their backlists, because while many people these days lose their sh*t over being the first to receive and review sparkly new titles from 2018 (and if they're REALLY important, 2019), I'm an old-fashioned kind of gal who likes to snoop in authors' cobwebby closets to find the titles that they'd like us to forget they wrote (Iris Johansen, I see you and your half-forgotten HRs. Lisa Kleypas, GIRL, I KNOW you wrote a bodice ripper back in the 80s, and I see you too).
I don't know why Kay Hooper thought a GUNS OF AVALON/DRAGONS OF PERN crossover needed to be written, only in romance form and filled with erotic bathing, but I'm glad she did. Read this book. It's almost worth it just for the unicorn scenes, although everything else is pretty great too.
And by 'great,' you know I mean bad - but the good kind of bad. The kind that wears leather. ;-)
P.S. WEDDING RINGS MADE OF UNICORN DUST.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
In case you missed it, I recently read this fantasy romance from the 80s called SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was from Kay Hooper's backlist (she only writes romantic suspense now), and I probably never would have discovered it if it hadn't recently been rereleased for Kindle and Netgalley hadn't subsequently approved me for the ARC. The book was so trashy and so bad, like, picture the worst science fiction book you've ever read from the 70s (probably written by Robert Heinlein, probably TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE), only with a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes thrown in for lols, and that's SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was, objectively, not a good book, and yet despite my better sense, I enjoyed it, being the trash queen I am, because if a book is so bad it entertains me, I give that spit a good rating, even if I take the mickey out of it in my review.
I've been working my way through Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass series over the last few months, and my thoughts on the series kind of mirror my thoughts about SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. I don't understand the purpose of the book, because presumably it was written in a good faith attempt to be a serious fantasy novel, but on the other hand, it also has a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes (except with the ToG series, replace "unicorns" with "dragons" and "sexy bathing" with "sexy biting"). This is, objectively, not a good book, and yet I had such a good time making fun of it that I find myself becoming slightly fond of the series. It's like hating a dog that drools and pees everywhere but desperately wants to be your friend. That dog is annoying. That dog's mess is all over the place. But that dog also really, really wants you to like it. It's hard to hate that dog.
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AND SNARK AHEAD***
I think Throne of Glass's biggest problem is that it is gloriously uneven in terms of quality. There are parts of the book that are good, and then there are parts of the book that have me skimming like nobody's business. Durian's relationship with Fanta? Don't care. Raisin beating up Celery, over and over and over, until I wonder if I should be playing Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango in the background? Don't care. Kale feels so bad about betraying Celery's feels? Don't care. Celery whining over and over about how she contributed to Queen Bae's death? Don't care. (Also, eff you, Celery. Your "I want to read books and sit on my butt eating cake in between having sex with Kale" was what led to that whole situation in the first place. It's just yet another episode of PoCs Dying to Make White People Give a F*ck, and that spit's so old that at this point, it's all reruns. Give it a rest.)
On the other hand, this book also had some redeeming factors that were not present in the first book. I actually like Onion Ass-river. Mutton Blackberry isn't too bad either. I'm 99.9% sure that somewhere in that girl's room is a shrine to Daenerys Targaryen filled with hair and toenail clippings and she probably stands in front of it while practicing shouting "WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?" But honestly, I really liked her relationship with Drogon - oops, I mean, Abraxos. He was cool. I kind of pictured him as looking like Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon - a movie, incidentally, that Mutton really should watch, because this is something that she really sucks at.
I think the worst thing about this series is the heroine, Celery, AKA Addledstar Galactica. My feelings towards her have been evolving across the series steadily. In THRONE OF GLASS, I wanted to slap her. In CROWN OF MIDNIGHT, I wanted to slap her and maybe push her off a cliff. In HEIR OF FIRE, I wanted to push her off a cliff into a lake filled with a celery-eating Kraken. She is sooo annoying, and honestly, there is only so much you can read about how perfect a character is before you start to picture some RP-er being all, THIS IS MY ORIGINAL CHARACTER, YOU GUYS. SHE HAS RAINBOW HAIR AND SIX DIFFERENT KINDS OF MAGIC POWERS. If you thought that Miss Assassin was **SUPER SPESHUL** in the last two books, just wait until you get to this book, where you find out that she isn't just a queen, she also has a magical fairy form, and two different kinds of magic powers, which leave just about everyone who witnesses them in ~awe~.
Also, Maas isn't content with the Kale/Celery/Durian love triangle in the last two books, plus the maybe Finnick O'Dair knock-off. No, in this book she has two more dudes fighting after her magical ladyparts - enter Rowan, who I'm pretty sure is knockoff Rhysand from the ACOTAR series (he even has magical fairy tattoos), and Onion Ass-river, who was Celery's childhood BFF. The Raisin/Celery ship is totally forced down the readers' throats in this book, and I'm just like, OKAY, what was the point of Kale and Durian at all in the first 2 then, if you're just going to make up new love interests when you get bored of them? Is Celery going to dump Raisin in the very last book of the series for some even more depraved, hotter dude with even better magical powers? Is she going to - *gasp* - date God Himself, because only He in all his glorious gloriousness is worthy of the holy sunlight that beams from the sanctity of her nether regions? I do wonder, because this spit is ridic.
Also, also, what's with that line about not being able to hurt your soulmate? Celery reasons that this is why Kale and she are not to be - because she scratched his face up in the last book. BUT WAIT- didn't Raisin do the exact thing to you - MANY MANY TIMES? He bloodied your face and bruised your eye, and made you fight creatures so evil that you LITERALLY peed your pants in front of him. And then at the end of this book, suddenly you're soulmates? I'm SORRY, but by your logic, this relationship you have should be the opposite of soulmates, because HE HURT YOU BAD. #NotCool
Then we have Onion.
I actually liked Onion's character, but the problem I have with him is endemic in the overarching themes of the book itself. I joked at first about the sexual tension between him and Kale, but by the end of the book, I was like, no, wait, there is actual tension here. It's like how Kale felt with Celery before, you know, she beat him up and ran off to be with someone who beats her up (ugh). Onion and Kale had actual great chemistry - the same way Celery had great chemistry with Queen Bae. I'd seen others complain about the queerbaiting in this series, but HONESTLY, it feels legit. You have all these characters who seem like they'd be LGBT+ and have these potentially awesome ships with same-sex characters, ONLY to have SJM be like, "Naaahh," and push them into cis-het relationships with characters who they previously had ZERO chemistry with in the previous books.
Take Durian's relationship with Sorscha. WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM? Out of nowhere, that's where! Last I heard, he was mooning over Celery, but now he's just consorting with the servants - and then he decides, ALSO OUT OF NOWHERE, that he loves the servant to the point that he'd offer ~anything~?? Um, wait? Also, he legit says "I love you" to Kale and there's that sexual tension, which makes me feel like Kale might possibly be bi, but I BET YOU THAT THIS IS NEVER ADDRESSED, and that Kale ends up in a cis-het relationship with some rando who SJM just arbitrarily decides he's **meant** to be with in one of the later books.
You also can't convince me that Queen Bae and Celery weren't OTP OTP, because in my mind, they totally were. The way Celery feels about Nehemia in this book is less like a dead friend and more like a lover who must be avenged. Not only was her death totally pointless, but I also felt like her relationship with Celery wasn't fully explored. The bond they had totally trumped anything Celery had with Kale, Durian, or her precious, precious Raisin; it was healthy, pure, and built on love.
On non-relationship-related notes, I feel like there was way too much random wandering around, and too much time spent on Celery and how great she is. Her priorities continue to be way screwed up. One of her crowning moments in this book is that, while imprisoned, she once more agonizes over her figure and WHILE IMPRISONED, plays around with tying her sash so as to emphasize her assets and breastets. Also, ONCE AGAIN, people die to to Celery's incompetence (this time thousands instead of, you know, just the one) and she is like OMG it's all my fault! NAH, YOU THINK???
I can tell that this is going the Girl of Fire route from THG, and Celery is going to be the figurehead for some grand revolution, but I don't like Celery nearly as much as I like Katniss. She feels way too manufactured and perfect, and apart from weeing in her trousers that one time from fear, we really don't get many human-like responses to things. She grandstands a lot and tosses off a lot of quotes that people seem to really enjoy quoting on Goodreads about how she's going to "rattle the stars", but she doesn't strike me personally as being particularly realistic or relatable. She's a Barbie in armor with magical powers, and that's hardly a 'strong female protagonist.' Particularly when stuck in an abusive relationship with some jerk who likes to tattoo all his mistakes in life on his arm. #lame
All that said, I do think this is an improvement over the two previous books, even if it gives off "I desperately want to be the next Game of Thrones vibes." The writing is better, and the parts of the book that don't involve Celery were interesting. It's Celery herself who really poisons this series and makes me want to take my Snark to Warp 5. She's just such an idiot and everyone's thoughts revolve around her, and I can't help but think of that quote from 10 Things I Hate About You where she's concerned, where Patrick asks, "What is it with this chick? She have beer-flavored nipples?"
I'll read the next book because I'm invested now, and I hear book 5 is a raging fustercluck of wtf that dissolves into bodice-ripper territory (and you know HOW MUCH I LOVE THOSE). Who knows? Maybe I'll actually love it. I hear copious amounts of smut are involved, and I am the Mother of Smut (the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention, etc. etc.). WE SHALL SEE~
As always, you can credit this review to my friends who enjoy "encouraging" me to read books they think I'll hate, and also to the people who come onto my reviews thinking it's OK to tell me to STFU, because ha ha joke's on you, that only makes me want to post MOAR reviews. For the record, if you, or one of your friends, take issue with the way I review books, feel free to reach me at 1-800-GIRL-BYE.