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In Calabria

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

This is another title I received free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Beagle returns to the world of unicorns, or rather unicorns return to the land of men, but in this case the magic is not as special as in his most iconic book. It's a short, breezy read, with Beagle's literary imagery lifting it out of predictability to satisfy, if not enchant. Not sure who chose the cover art, because it doesn't reflect anything from the book. La Signora, as Claudio Bianchi decides to call her, is never trapped or corralled, in fact I think it impossible to do so.

Calabria is a region in Italy, comprising the "toe" of the boot shaped peninsula. Among its rugged, sun-baked mountains and scenic beaches, there are also a few scattered farms, one such owned by Bianchi. He's a 48-year-old divorced man, content to be alone to tend his cows, goats, and pigs, and to grow food enough to eat and trade for other goods. He also writes poetry in his spare time, but always denies it. He has no reason to suspect he is special, and would laugh at such a prospect, and yet it is his farm that is chosen by a female unicorn to be the place for her to give birth to her foal.

Claudio is able to keep the secret for a long time, until he gets careless and is surprised by the part-time mail girl, sister to the official mailman. She cannot contain her excitement about it, and inadvertently reveals the news to her brother. Both swear they will not tell anyone else, but Claudio knows it will now be impossible to keep the secret, especially when the newborn arrives. At times the unicorns seem to have a knack for disappearing when others are around, except for whenever the plot insists they don't, and none of that is consistent or logical. Newspaper and TV reporters get wind of the story, hounding Claudio relentlessly, but he is able to fend them off. It is not until the local Mafia-like organization, the 'Ndrangheta, come around that things get seriously threatening.

As I said before, the plot is fairly predictable. Most readers will be able to foresee events long before they happen. Unicorns are magical of course, and that magic might extend to someone else who had helped them in a time of need. I can't give this a hearty recommendation, but neither would I try to dissuade anyone from reading it. Short, lyrical, and romantic, it might be the perfect book for someone else.


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Peter S. Beagle


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