Unicorn Quest by Kamila Benko. Bloomsbury, 2018.
11-year-old Claire and her older sister Sophie have just moved to their recently deceased great-aunt’s enormous country house. Claire has spent most of her life following very cautiously behind Sophie’s search for Experiences – until recently, when Sophie has only recently recovered from a long and serious illness.
In this house, the girls find a ladder in a fireplace. When they climb the ladder, they find themselves not on the roof, but climbing out of a well in what’s clearly a different country. Chased by wraiths, they decide not to return – but when Sophie vanishes, Claire knows that she must have gone back without her.
When Claire climbs the ladder, she finds that Sophie is still missing in the new land, Arden – and is on trial for the theft of the village’s magical Unicorn Harp. It turns out that this country divides its people into Guilds, each with its own magical skill set and territory. She sets out on a dangerous mission to find Sophie with two kids her own age she meets – Nett (short for Nettle), a Tiller boy, and Sena, a Forger girl. But what starts as simple rescue turns into something larger as Claire has to reflect on her family’s connection to Arden and its long-ago, disputed history.
It’s exciting without so much gore as to make it unsuitable for readers on the younger or more sensitive end of the middle grade spectrum. Plus, it involves a hunt to bring back unicorns, believed to be extinct, and for a bit more advanced readers than those of The Unicorn Rescue Society.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.