So a funny thing happened last year at Dragon*Con. I was visiting the Pyr (a well-known SFF publisher, for those who don’t know) booth to meet E.C. Meyers, and he introduced me to one of the editors there, Gabrielle Harroway. Gabrielle, as it turned out, knew who I was and told me she was a big fan of RAMPANT, which automatically made me love her.
(I’m such an easy mark. Tell me you like my books and I’m yours forever.)
Gabrielle is also the Managing Editor for a small SFF press out of Canada called Dragon Moon Press, and she told me they were putting together a sequel to their anthology WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME, and would I be interested in submitting to it. The theme of the antho was, of course, stories about what the hero does after saving the world.
But you know me, I had to give it a twist.
Fast forward a few months, and I sent Gabrielle (and her co-editor, the famous writer and world-creator Ed Greenwood) a little story called “The Last of the Unicorn Hunters.”
Funny thing about that title. It was actually the original title for RAMPANT, but no one, from my agent down to the people at the bar (I want to say Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Naomi Novik, and Charles Ardai) liked that title. (Scott suggested BONEGRINDER, btw). And I’m really glad I didn’t end up using it for RAMPANT, because it actually fits SOOOOOO much better with this story.
“The Last of the Unicorn Hunters” takes place in the mid 1800s, soon after Astrid’s ancestor Clothilde Llewelyn’s famous and epic battle with the karkadann Bucephalus. (Those of you who have read RAMPANT know the legend that arose from that battle, as well as the consequences.) It is told from the perspective of an older, “retired” unicorn hunter named Jane. Jane has… problems.
One of the issues I keep coming back to in the killer unicorn stories is the toll the life of a warrior takes on the hunters–both emotionally and physically. I read too many fantasy novels where the heroine takes a licking and is back on the field the next day, with maybe a few bruises or a superficial wound to the forearm to show for it. But all you have to do is meet people in the military to know that this is not the case. Where I live, near a military hospital, I see the toll of war on the bodies of young men and women daily. The wounds our soldiers suffer are real, they are significant, and they last the rest of these teenagers’ lives.
And that’s what happens to the unicorn hunters, too. There is a reason so many hunters choose to “dodge the draft” as it were by relinquishing their powers. There’s a reason that characters like Isabeau can sleep at night because she believes that she’s actually saving these girls. The most common question I get asked by readers of the killer unicorns books (okay, second most common, after “When is the third book coming out?”) is what is going to happen to Phil now. Poor Phil, who isn’t magic. Poor Phil? Yes, what happened to Phil was rough, and it should never happen to anyone. But Phil is FINE. She’s going to go and live her life and go to college and play volleyball and generally be awesome. It is a testament to her character, I think, that she chooses to stay at the Cloisters (which is a very dangerous place for her, not to mention being the setting of the worst thing that has ever happened to her) rather than just packing up and getting back to the extraordinary life she’s bound to have.
There is an expectation, I think, in a work of fantasy that having magic is the preferable option. In a book like Harry Potter — yes. Being a Wizard is better than being a Muggle. You aren’t actually relinquishing anything. But in the killer unicorn world, magic is dangerous. You have two options if you are born a hunter. You can spend your life hiding and hoping the unicorns don’t come and find you and kill you and whoever you happen to be standing near (a’la Wen in “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”) or you can join the Order of the Lioness and risk battling with the unicorns and getting killed or maimed anyway. When I see people call Astrid whiny or reluctant, I think to myself — wouldn’t you be?
But I digress. Anyway: “The Last of the Unicorn Hunters” is going to be in the anthology WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME 2, put out by Dragon Moon Press this August! Here is the Table of Contents (including Mercedes Lackey, which just makes me squeal with excitement, because I read her when I was in middle school and now we’re going to be in a collection together!). They are doing something very cool with the antho, which is, if you buy the ebook, you get 8 extra stories that are ebook only (I presume this saves on printing costs).
So that makes 5 killer unicorn stories out in the world:
- The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn
- Hammer of Artemis
- On a Field, Sable
- The Last of the Unicorn Hunters
Which, if you add it up, is almost 40,000 words of extra killer unicorn content. (Rampant and Ascendant, for what it’s worth, are 108,000 words each). So that’s cool.