Rainbow horns and glittery hooves may be the fashion statement of the moment, but in her latest book, Lindsay Littleson has been bold enough to strip away the sparkle and return the unicorn to its status as a mythical beast to be reckoned with.
Set over the course of a residential school trip to the Highlands, the story follows Lewis and Rhona, two Primary 7 pupils from Glasgow, who find themselves compelled to protect the last herd of wild unicorns from a deadly threat.
Though out of their comfort zones and with their own emotional challenges to face, the children brave gunfire, falling branches and the wrath of their robot-dancing (but secretly kind) class teacher Mr Deacon, as they attempt to rescue the angry unicorns from captivity on a local estate.
Their squabbles and affection for each other make Rhona and Lewis an appealing duo, and their contrasting perspectives on the organised elements of their trip bring a lighter touch to complement the drama (for Lewis, every activity is an ordeal, for Rhona, it is an escape).
The unicorns themselves are the star turn though, from Lewis’ first encounter with a stallion, in which “steam billowed from its quivering nostrils and its spiralled horn gleamed like steel,” to Rhona’s discovery of a trapped, pregnant mare: “Moonlight sparkled on her shimmering white coat, her translucent silvery mane.”
These descriptions feel so authentic that they have the reader convinced that they too, might encounter a unicorn on a stormy Highland night, and it is in bringing realism (and just the right sprinkling of magic) to something so fantastical that the power of this compelling story lies.
Guardians of the Wild Unicorns might have its origins in legend, but it still serves as a timely reminder of how spectacular Scotland’s wild places and creatures are – and how vital it is that we protect and respect what we have today.
Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, by Lindsay Littleson, Kelpies (age 8+)