Book Review: Peter S Beagle Pens New Unicorn Book, All Is Right In The World

You read the title right, mere months after the release of Summerlong, Peter S. Beagle has written a new novella about unicorns! I sometimes wonder if Beagle is sick of unicorns being his bread and butter, but if In Calabria is any indication, he isn't bored with them yet.

Claudio Bianchi is a middle aged, curmudgeon of an Italian farmer who lives alone and likes it that way.  However, when an unicorn is found on his property, his farm becomes an attraction for the media, hunters, pilgrims and even mobsters.  Yes, you’ve probably read a plot like this before, and you probably can guess where it is going, with Claudio getting a new lease on life through the magic and wonder the unicorn brings.

The plot is fairly by the numbers with few surprises, but like Summerlong, Beagle’s prose makes it a worthy read. There were several sentences I had to reread twice for the pleasure, and more than a few times a sentence was so whimsical I almost felt bad for enjoying it so much. It’s very much a fairy tale for adults to enjoy with no shame. When a lot of fantasy these days bank on the grimness of say, Game of Thrones and revel in their darkness, it’s a nice break to just read something that is so utterly pleasant to experience.

As a novella this is of course a short book, and that both works for and against it. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome; it’s short, sweet and to the point. But like all books I enjoy, it feels too short at times. There were several things that could have been elaborated on, and there’s a few parts where you just have to let go of your questions because they just are not going to get answered.

My one gripe with the plot is that at a certain point, the unicorn just fades into the background and the book focuses on the romance. The love interest is young enough to be Claudio’s daughter, and we don’t get a sense at all of what she wants out of life or who she is as a person, just that she’s very assertive and she fiercely loves Claudio. She feels like a trophy for him coming out of his shell rather than a character in her own right, and it doesn’t really feel like it supplements the plot in a meaningful way. Like in Summerlong, she could have been replaced with a cat or dog Claudio bonds with and nothing would really be lost. It's a little frustrating, because Beagle can write female characters very well, but Giovanna fails to shine.

In Calabria is a quick weekend read that is so confident in it’s whimsy, it never comes off as cheesy or childish. It’s not The Last Unicorn, but is still a return to form for the man who did for unicorns what Tolkien has done for elves and dwarves. For any adult fan of unicorn stories, it’s a must read.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.