– SPOILER FREE REVIEW –
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Unicorn Tracks
Author: Julia Ember
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQIA+
Release date: April 21st, 2016
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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.
Unicorn Tracks was a very enjoyable read that left me wanting for more. I found the concept of a 19th century safari with real and fantastical creatures very unique and I loved the representation that this book offered. Not only does this feature a positive lesbian relationship, but the couple is also interracial, which is not something we get to see in romance very often. When I finished this short novel, I hesitated between 3 and 4 stars because I thought there was a lot of potential still left to be explored, but I ultimately decided to go with 4 because it was a positive, fun, and creative read that made me smile.
As I said, I wanted more of this story because everything was really great, but the length didn’t give it a chance to be the best that it could be. I enjoyed the characters and the worldbuilding, but if the novel had been longer, they would have been fully realized! For example, I definitely wanted to know more about the myths surrounding the unicorns. That being said, I thought that it was still all very well done. The characters had very distinct personalities and their motivations were clear.
Our protagonists, Mnemba and Kara, were both courageous and smart girls, each in their own way. They approach situations differently and complement each other. Sometimes they were too stubborn, but it worked in the story. As for their relationship, I think it was maybe too insta-lovey, but I appreciated that we do get to see it gradually grow. Again, I think this has to be with the length of the book, so I’m not actually complaining about it.
I really liked Mnemba as a narrator. She was smart and sensible, never angsty. She is introduced as a survivor of a brutal sexual assault, which is something that I believe was well incorporated into the story. It was a nice representation, very rare amongst the common uses of rape as a plot device or shock factor.
The plot was intriguing and fast paced. I wanted to see all the incredible creatures, especially the unicorns because they sounded rather mysterious. Learning about the setting and the different traditions was fantastic and I really really hope Julia Ember expands this world in another book someday.
Overall, all the small issues I had with this novel came from its length and how it didn’t let it grow as much as I wanted to. Still, as it is, it’s a great light read. I found it imaginative, sweet and refreshing and I can’t wait to read more from this author!