The third book in THE UNICORN CHRONICLES by Bruce Coville continues Cara Hunter’s journey through the land of Luster as she attempts to find a way to defend the unicorn population from an ancient feud involving her own family members. After discovering her heritage as the descendant of a woman who is cursed with eternal life due to the unicorn horn trapped within her heart (and therefore determined to drive them to extinction), Cara agrees to a mission given to her by the Queen of the Unicorns. In the Unicorn Chronicles there is a prophecy that states: “In the darkest hour, of their darkest day, the unicorns must face, their own darkness,” as well as a few veiled clues to something called the Whisperer. Cara’s task is to seek out the centaur king in the hopes that he has more information about what all this means.
There are other subplots going on at the same time. Cara’s father Ian is trying to track down his wife Martha, trapped somewhere inside a red jewel-like prison, whilst the delvers (strange subterranean creatures that are long-time enemies of the unicorns) are carrying out a strange task of their own. There are a couple of other threads involving minor characters, though these chapters are often only a few pages long. Although the abrupt switches from plot to plot can be a bit jarring (it perhaps would have been better had the book stayed with one point-of-view character for more than one chapter at a time) the multi-stranded style lends the story a sense of scope. Plenty of characters turn up from the previous books, and we get a more nuanced look at the various species that populate Luster.
In many ways Dark Whispers suffers from middle-book syndrome, with nothing really starting and very little being resolved. Although Cara completes her quest and brings back valuable information about the nature of their enemy (and it’s a doozy of a secret!), other storylines, as well as the book itself, end on cliffhangers. This must have been particularly frustrating if you were reading these books as they were published, for the writing of Dark Whispers is quite a story in itself. Though this four-part series was first started in 1994, it took a whopping sixteen years for Coville to finally finish the tale, publishing Into the Land of the Unicorns in 1994 and the final book The Last Hunt in 2010. And you thought George R.R. Martin took his time! Equally amusing is the size difference between each book. Into the Land of the Unicorns is about the width of my little finger. Dark Whispers could easily contain five copies of that book, and The Last Hunt could manage seven or eight.
Yet Dark Whispers is a solid continuation of the plot that begun in the first two books, building on various themes and characters that were only touched upon previously. Cara is a bright, compassionate, intelligent protagonist, and she’s pitted against adversaries that grow increasingly complex and sympathetic with each book. Coville isn’t afraid to kill off important characters, and there is real emotional weight to many of the moral decisions that Cara must make. It’s fast-paced and well-written, with a couple of interesting twists that puts a new perspective on what exactly our heroes are fighting, and why. The story concludes in The Last Hunt, though there is a short story that acts as a prequel of sorts to be found in the short-story anthology A Glory of Unicorns.
The Unicorn Chronicles — (1994-2012) Ages 9-12. A Glory of Unicorns is a collection of stories. The Unicorn Treasury is a collection of stories and poems. Publisher: This is the magical story of Cara, a girl sent on a mission by her grandmother to the land of the unicorns. Only Cara can protect the unicorns and their world from invasion.