Thursday, February 26, 2009

Delve Deep: Dark Whispers (Unicorn Chronicles III) by Bruce Coville

The Chiron gazed down at Cara. ... It's often the case that our most intimate enemies are rooted in our own darkness. The delvers are dwarfs bent and shaped by the Whisperer. And the Whisperer is a living thing, formed from the unicorns, pulled from their own hearts.... This is why delvers are drawn to unicorns at the same time that they despise them.

They burn with hatred yet also with a deep desire to connect.

Bruce Coville's long-awaited third book in the Unicorn Chronicles, Dark Whispers (Unicorn Chronicles) has both satisfied and teased his legions of fantasy fans.

In plot, characterization, and setting, this book exists in media res: As the murderous powers of Beloved plan their attack during the Blood Moon, young teen heroine Cara, granddaughter of the Unicorn queen and daughter of one of the vengeful Beloved's Hunters sworn to destroy the unicorns, is sent on a mission by her grandmother Amalia Flickerfoot to learn the secret of the enmity from the king of the Centaurs. With her go Lightfoot the unicorn prince, Grumwold the Dwarf, and Medafil the Griffon. Captured by the delvers and imprisoned in their underground kingdom, Cara befriends a rebel delver she calls Rocky, and together the two escape the subterranean maze of tunnels and complete her quest, only to find that they must rush to the unicorns' Autumnhaven to help fight the final battle.

In a parallel storyline, Cara's father Ian Hunter, who has broken with the evil Beloved, travels to the Himalayas with a special portkey jewel and the mission of releasing his wife, Cara's mother Martha, daughter of Queen Amalia, from the Rainbow Prison. Ian Hunter's hope is to free her and gain her powers in the ultimate confrontation between the forces of Beloved and the unicorns.

Alas for his readers, that final battle is reserved for what may be the final volume in the series. Coville carefully braids together the many story lines left mostly untold in the first two books into a leisurely exposition which gradually tightens into a page-turning adventure ending on the eve of the final confrontation. The sole unknown left for the last sequel is the nature of the dark entity known only as "the Whisperer," who is the prime mover of the apocalyptic battle to come. Echoes of J. R. R. Tolkien abound in this skillfully constructed "middle earth" universe in which Cara is at the very center of the web of complexity. A compelling character not unlike Harry Potter, she is the mystical hero-heir, the great unknown, and the nexus of the series.

Coville's faithful followers, many who began with Book I, Into The Land Of The Unicorns (Unicorn Chronicles) and Book 2, Song Of The Wanderer (Unicorn Chronicles), years ago will race through this one with the joy of unwinding a major part of the story mixed with the sadness of discovering they must wait for another volume to reach the story's core. Book IV, The Last Hunt, is promised for publication by Scholastic Press early in 2010.

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