Black Unicorn/Gold Unicorn Critical Essays

Tanith Lee


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Black Unicorn was not marketed as a young adult novel, but Gold Unicorn was. The books feature a theme important in young adult literature: an adolescent’s journey into maturity. In the confines of her mother’s castle, Tanaquil seems amazingly self-possessed for a sixteen-year-old. She knows the castle routine, she knows the servants, and she knows how to outwit the magical guardians of Jaive’s study. When she leaves, however, her naïveté quickly becomes apparent. Tanaquil needs more experience before she can take full possession of her powers. She literally needs knowledge of good (the Perfect World) and evil (the warlord’s world).

Tanaquil also needs to acquire knowledge of people. She believes that Honj follows Lizra out of a desire for power, but he does so out of loyalty. She believes that Lizra truly loves the Emperor of War, but Lizra only pretends to love him in order to rescue her friends. Tanaquil also displays blindness to her own motives, thinking that she has stayed with Lizra because of the gold unicorn when actually she has stayed for the love of Honj.

In the same way that Lizra acts like their father, longing for power, Tanaquil acts like their mother, insisting on emotional distance. Lizra does admit to loving their father, and she is able to accept him as a man with flaws, rather than perceiving him as an ideal being. By contrast, Tanaquil is not yet able to admit to loving their mother. Furthermore, she cannot accept her mother as a woman with flaws. For Tanaquil, Jaive must be either all good or all bad. Therefore, Tanaquil cannot introduce Worabex to Jaive, because Jaive in love could not be the ideal mother Tanaquil craves.


(The entire section is 696 words.)