I have a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.
This is a delightful, new fairy tale by author Jane Yolen, full of medieval castles and abbeys, knights and monks, bravery and foolery, and of course, a plague of unicorns. There is a lot of solid reality surrounding the tale about mythical creatures. From the castle, we have a young heir, James, whose father went off to the crusades and is feared dead. James has thousands of questions and few people who will help him find the answers; only his older sister, Alexandria, takes the time to encourage his curiosity. His uncle, in his father’s absence, decides it’s time he should go to the abbey for his education, in case he is already now the duke. In the abbey is a new abbot, Abbot Aelian, who hopes to revitalize the abbey by making cider from the special golden apples (Hallelujah apples) that the herd of unicorns likes the best. He reads up on unicorns and tries numerous ways to rid the orchard of the magical but nuisance beasts. Nothing works. And then James arrives. James is determined to do his duty as he perceives it, and his valour and home-sickness give birth to a plan.
This story is a treasure trove of medieval information but woven into the telling in a captivating way: we learn about abbey life and castle life, tapestries and weaponry, calligraphy and illuminations, and all in a fast-paced story sure to captivate the imagination of young children. There’s lots of humour as young James drives everyone in the castle crazy with his questions and causes tutor after tutor to leave in despair. Likely heroes arrive at the abbey to rid it of its plague, only to leave in a hurry, defeated. Great bedtime story a chapter at a time, or for a young reader just beginning to read longer stories or short novels. I have a hard-cover copy which has excellent illustrations such as the one shown here. * * * * *