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The Unicorn Chronicles is a young adult series by fantasy writer Bruce Coville, chronicling the journey of a young girl named Cara through Luster, a land populated primarily by unicorns. Pursued by mysterious forces, she is forced to leave behind her life as an Ordinary High-School Student and is sent to Luster by her grandmother with a mission to deliver a message to the Old One. Along the way, she uncovers the history of Luster and the unicorns, as well as some amazing things about her own family.

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Part of the same multiverse as Coville's The Foolish Giant, The Dragonslayers, the Goblins duology, the Magic Shop series, and the short story Wizard's Boy (1996)note .

The series consists of:

  • Book I: Into the Land of the Unicorns (1994)
  • Book II: Song of the Wanderer (1999)
  • Book III: Dark Whispers (2008)
  • Book IV: The Last Hunt (2010)
  • The Guardian of Memory (1998; short story from Ivy Morris's point of view)note 
  • The Boy With Silver Eyes (2008; short story)note 


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Tropes found in this work:

  • Action Girl: Several, including Belle and M'Gama.
  • Action Mom: Both Cara's mother and Ivy Morris.
  • Affectionate Nickname: In book 3, Cara admits that her father used to call her "Pookie".
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The unicorns treat the delvers this way. The delvers think of themselves somewhat differently, though.
  • Amicable Exes: The Blind Man and his wife, whom he banished to the Rainbow Prison, in book 3. "Felicity", as she calls herself, admits that she betrayed him, but they still have a fondness for one another and are willing to work together.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Narrowly averted in book 3 when Medafil's wing is nearly torn from his side when he gets stuck in a tight spot in the delvers' caves. Luckily, it's healed when they meet up with Belle.
  • And This Is for...: Fallon gets into this when he fights the Whisperer in book 4. "This is for my alahim!" "And this is for my unicorns!" "This," "this one is for the delvers!"
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  • Angel Unaware: The Dimblethum turns out to be Elihu, Luster's creator, who was friends with Lightfoot. Later, Ian Hunter spends time traveling with Fallon, who turns out to be a Greater Power on the same level as Elihu before both of them were cast out for Elihu's rule breaking.
  • The Atoner: The Guardian of Memory, who stays on Earth for twenty-five years before a successor takes their place. When the unicorns left, they took something of the human heart with them, completely unintentionally; their presence helps keep the memory of Earth's magic alive, atoning for their accidentally taking that memory in the first place.
  • Baleful Polymorph:
    • Ivy is actually a unicorn changed into a human by a protection spell. The spell reverses in the climax of book 2.
    • Cara is turned into a unicorn in book 4 so that she can outrun her pursuers. She doesn't change back by the end of the book.
    • The Dimblethum started out as Elihu, one of the Great Powers and resembling a human, before being forced into his current shape as punishment for officiating the unicorns' Purification Ceremony. After being manipulated by the Whisperer, he turns back into his normal state, but later sacrifices that to change Cara into a unicorn. Fallon later takes his Transformational Magic on himself, becoming the second Dimblethum so Elihu can again assume human form and use his powers to save Luster.
    • Graumag of the dragons is actually a human transformed by her stepmother.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: Discussed briefly in book 3, when Ian Hunter, who's traveling in Nepal, recalls the stories of them. He's still not sure if the yeti, or Abominable Snowman, is real or just a legend, but has decided not to dismiss them as such without proof either way.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In the final battle of book 4, the centaurs arrive at the last minute to help the unicorns facing the Hunters and Delvers.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Thomas's cart.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In book 4 the Hunters are defeated, Luster is saved from being destroyed, Rocky becomes the king of the delvers, and Cara's parents finally reunite. But... Cara has to Mercy Kill Beloved and is stuck in unicorn form, meaning she can never return to Earth and neither can her parents, the original Dimblethum is dead, and M'Gama and Namza are comatose while helping the world heal.
  • The Big Guy: The Dimblethum in the first book. He shares the position with Finder in the second.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Cara to Ivy in book 2 for lying to her about everything. Cara's mother follows suit off-screen in book 4.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Dragons. Which proves a problem when Amalia gave them the wrong directions to the final battlefield, and Firethroat and Graumag passed those same directions on to the centaurs, leading to their going the wrong way. Luckily, once she found out the truth, Firethroat went to get them.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Deconstructed. The reason why the unicorns are so pure of heart and suffering from Chronic Hero Syndrome is because after Whiteling's death and the surge of negative emotions they felt afterward, they forcibly removed their flaws and negative traits, as revealed in book 3. Said whispers are the combination of those flaws, still living and acting as The Corrupter to anyone who will listen.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Cara's missing last name, and the song that Medafil's shell sings.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Unicorns are drawn to distressed maidens by instinct (this is how Moonheart first meets "Ivy Morris", by the way). Knowing this, Hunters often use young girls as bait to lure out unicorns; in book 4, they even bring a group of them, the Maidens of the Hunt, to Luster for that purpose.
  • Cliffhanger: Book 2 ends on one that then wasn't resolved for nearly a decade.
  • The Corrupter: The Whisperer, or "Dark Whispers", introduced in book 3. The combination of all the unicorn's negative traits, they now act to manipulate others, including Beloved, and also to corrupt the delver king Gnurflax and the Dimblethum.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Loads of them, ranging from Grimwold's cousin Droopwillow in the first book to Firethroat's mention of Luster's hidden seventh dragon in the finale.
  • Dark Action Girl: Beloved surprisingly enough proves to a formidable fighter.
  • Dating Catwoman: And at least initially, it worked out. Cara's maternal grandmother was a unicorn permanently transformed into a human, and the connection to unicorns seems to have passed itself down to the succeeding two generations. Cara's father was a descendant of, and follower of, Beloved, and a hunter of unicorns. It seems the parents never learned each other's secrets, but the mother is long gone when the story starts. However, she returns by the end of the series.
  • Death by Childbirth: When Beloved's story is first told, it's mentioned that her mother died giving birth to her.
  • Dimensional Traveler: As Firethroat explains, this is one of the dragons' abilities, to move from one world to another. However, the world where the majority of the dragons went is cut off from others by the same magic that opened the original portal, preventing Earth's last seven dragons (who are now the seven dragons of Luster) from joining their kin there.
  • End of an Age: The former magical age of the earth is discussed more than once.
  • Evil Old Folks: Beloved, who is both evil and hundreds of years old.
  • The Exile: Elihu was exiled from Paradise for creating a world of his own, and punished further for officiating the Purification Ceremony of the unicorns. Fallon was exiled for knowing of Elihu's actions and not reporting him.
  • Eye Scream:
    • In book 3, Ian Hunter meets the Blind Man, who once traded his eyesight for knowledge. He forces Ian into a deal to lend him his sight from time to time in exchange for knowledge as well.
    • The Chiron traded an eye to extend his life, placing his life-force within an egg.
  • Face–Heel Turn: The Dimblethum is manipulated into this by the Whisperer, on the grounds that a great betrayal is needed to create the gate through the Axis Mundi.
  • Fantastic Racism: Thanks to Beloved's teachings, the Hunters hate unicorns.
  • Fate Worse than Death: A unicorn heals wounds by piercing the injury with its horn, leaving a star-shaped scar. The process is incredibly painful, but only for a moment. So what would happen if the horn broke off in the injury and could not be removed? Beloved is immortal with the horn in her heart, but the pain never leaves her.
  • Final Battle: Happens between the unicorns and Hunters in book 4, with two dragons, the centaurs, and some other humans on the unicorns' side, and most of the delvers aiding the Hunters.
  • First-Name Basis: Cara through most of the first book, though a single line very early on identifies her parents as 'Ian and Martha Hunter'. It becomes a Rewatch Bonus when her full name of Cara Diana Hunter is given in Firethroat's cave and its significance is revealed.
  • Forced Sleep:
    • In book 2, when Ivy Morris's story of how she first came to Luster, Moonheart mentions that the Hunter who came after she and him was placed into one of these by the other unicorns who came to rescue them. As far as he knows, Martin Hunter is still in that sleeping state.
    • After the final battle in book 4, it's decided that the surviving Hunters who are still loyal to Beloved will be placed in the same state and join Martin in his cave.
  • Foreshadowing: In the very first book, the Dimblethum's introduction describes him as resembling nothing so much as "a bear that started to turn into a man, but stopped before the process was complete." In the final book, it's revealed that the inverse is almost exactly the case.
  • The Ghost: Of Luster's seven dragons, all are named, but only three are actually seen in the present day, and Bronzeclaw appears in a flashback, leaving the other three - Redrage, Fah Leing and Master Bloodtongue - as this. The eighth dragon, whose existence is only revealed in the final chapters of book 4, doesn't even get named.
  • Goshdang It To Heck:
    • Medafil, with endless variation.
      • "Dingfangled pointy things! No, not that. Grambabbit, where is that spartbongle anyway?"
    • And to some degree the Squijum, although with him it's usually something like referring to unicorns as 'mean hornheads'.
  • Grumpy Old Man:
    • Moonheart. He's got the personality, but it's not clear whether he qualifies as "old" by unicorn standards. Younger unicorn Lightfoot certainly thinks of him this way.
    • Grimwold the dwarf is a more obvious example.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Due to the true nature of her grandmother, Cara is part unicorn (it's complicated). Also, the Dimblethum has the appearance of being half-human and half-bear, but it's unknown why he's that way. Book 4 finally reveals that he used to be Elihu, the human who created Luster, and his transformation came about
  • Heart Trauma: In order to communicate with unicorns, your heart must be pierced by a unicorn's horn.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: The first man who wrote about hunting unicorns actually happened to come across one already dead and wrote a lie about slaying it and how fierce the unicorns are. When he realized the damage he had done, so that the unicorns were no longer safe on Earth, he tried to recant but died with the legend still intact.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Cara's father, who turns on his ancestor Beloved in favor of his daughter in the climax of book 2.
    • In book 4, Feng Yuan is one of the Maidens of the Hunt, who switches sides after seeing a unicorn killed and is utterly horrified by it.
  • Heel–Race Turn: In book 4, when the Whisperer is killed and the source of their negativity is gone, the delvers start turning back to normal, though it takes some of them longer than others.
  • Here There Were Dragons: Creatures such as unicorns and dragons used to live on earth, but human persecution forced them to migrate to other worlds (Luster, in the case of the unicorns).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: All over the place in book 4. Among them:
    • Graumag sacrifices herself trying to physically hold the Axis Mundi together.
    • Namza and M'Gama sacrifice themselves to the roots of the Axis Mundi, helping hold Luster together and continuing to help it heal afterward.
    • Fallon sacrifices his human form, taking the Transformation Magic from Elihu and becoming the new Dimblethum so Elihu could try to save the Axis Mundi.
    • Elihu and Allura sacrifice themselves to heal the Axis Mundi from within and close the wound between the worlds.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Alahim, or "heart-brother" (which Fallon said is the closest to an actual translation for the term), is this. As Fallon explains, it is a powerful type of friendship, a bond of love and affection that requires no explanation, no promises, no forgiveness, and is like having another self, even if their goals and dreams are not the same; it is not romantic though.
  • I Am Who?: The Dimblethum is Elihu, Luster's creator, whose knowledge was suppressed as part of his punishment for taking part in the unicorns' Purification Ceremony.
  • Intangible Man: The Whisperer, being made of pure negative emotions. Fallon defeats it by forcing it into a physical form and tearing it apart.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Many, including that of Thomas the Tinker and the dragon Fah-Leing, as he mentions in book 2.
  • Interspecies Romance: Jacques, a human, and Ivy Morris, a unicorn who was turned into a human.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: When Flickerfoot became human, she retained her intelligence, but lost her memories of being a unicorn. They're restored with her true form at the end of book 2.
  • Last of His Kind: Implied to be the case for the Dimblethum and the Squijim.
    • It's actually more complicated with the Dimblethum, who is discovered to in fact be a transformed Great Power.
    • The dragons only sort of qualify; there's only seven - Firethroat, Redrage, Fah-Leing, Master Bloodtongue, Graumag, Bronzeclaw and Ebillan and in the climax of book 4, it turns out there's an eighth, but the others don't talk to them) left in Luster, but there are hundreds more known to exist in another dimension.
    • Book 4 reveals that the Squijum was actually a companion to Allura of the Great Powers, until he separated from her on a visit to Luster; whether there are more of his kind are not said.
  • Living Relic: The Guardian of Memory, whose job is basically to be the only unicorn on Earth.
  • The Lightfooted: Lightfoot, of course. Like all unicorns, he barely makes a sound when he walks and leaves next to no hoofprints.
  • Long-Lost Relative:
    • Cara doesn't know the man hunting her in book 1 is her father until later. Nor did she know that the unicorn who healed her as a child was actually her great-uncle, or that her new friend Lightfoot is actually her cousin.
    • As a child, Ivy Morris was rescued by Moonheart. Neither knows that they're actually brother and sister until Ivy finds out shortly before regaining her true unicorn form.
  • Love Confession: Finder to Belle as he's dying in book 3.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: In book 2, Cara meets the Queen's Players, a group of human performers traveling around Luster. The group includes the acrobat Jacques, who was once married to Cara's grandmother Ivy Morris. He is uncertain if Cara's mother Martha was his child, or the child of someone Ivy met on Earth; either way, as far as he's concerned, any grandchild of Ivy's is his as well. In book 4, he admits that he'd rather not ask Amalia to find out for sure, since this way he's happy.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: It turns out that Ivy Morris is the granddaughter of Arabella Skydancer. Also, Cara is the daughter of one of the Hunters and descended from Beloved.
  • Made of Evil: Or at least, all the negativity of the unicorns. This is how the Whisperer came into being, when said negativity was purged from them.
  • Magic Land: Luster, the adoptive homeland of the unicorns, centaurs and others.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The Whisperer acts as this for much of the series. The pure concentrated negativity of the unicorns and their maker, it urged on the delvers, Beloved and others toward darkness.
  • Meaningful Name: Much is made of Cara's last name, of course, but it's worth noting that her middle name is Diana.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • Cara does this for the Chiron in book 3, who is very old and tired, but cannot die unless certain conditions are met. Cara is the only one who both meets the requirements and is willing, however reluctantly, to do so.
    • She does it again, this time while in unicorn form, to Beloved in book 4 by healing the horn shard trapped in her heart and keeping her in eternal, living pain. Beloved rapidly ages from the healing and dies in peace.
  • The Migration: Pretty much every magical species of Earth has undergone this, with the majority of dragons moving to one world and the last seven, along with the unicorns (and gryphons, merfolk, centaurs and others), moving to Luster.
  • Morality Chain: Cara for her father. When Beloved takes Cara hostage, he pulls a Heel–Face Turn.
  • The Multiverse: Known worlds in it include Earth, Luster, the world where Bellenmore sent the majority of the dragons, and the Rainbow Prison, which is actually the space between the worlds, reflecting Earth and Luster especially.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Beloved is extremely old, but she can kick ass.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The basis for Beloved's vendetta against the unicorns is a misunderstanding between her father and a unicorn who tried to help her.
  • Omniglot: Dragons have the gift of tongues, letting them understand and speak any language. When Cara returns the dragon Firethroat's heart to her, she is given the boon of being allowed to drink some of the dragon's blood and thus receives the same power.
  • One Degree of Separation: Cara's family tree is very... extensive.
  • Opposites Attract: Belle (small but rough and aggressive) was a Love Interest for Finder (mellow Big Guy).
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same:
    • Grimwolf the dwarf is short, cranky and not too fond of adventures happening to him. Flensa is another dwarf until she dies fighting in book 3. All dwarves can return to the stone from which they came as they die.
    • The delvers, underground goblin-like creatures, used to be normal dwarves. Then they were corrupted by the Whisperer, filled with negative emotions and the power of the Whisperer itself, which draws them to the unicorns yet fills them with hatred for that race. Some of them, when away from the others for a long time and around different beings who lacked the problem, started to lose this negativity; the Whisperer's death enables them as a whole to start returning to their true selves.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: Medafil is pretty much a classic gryphon. He even hoards treasure.
  • Portal Network: The delvers' tunnels include special "transit points", which transport them many miles at a time.
  • Powers That Be: The "Great Powers", not gods but something else, who reside on a higher plane known as Paradise. Two of them, Elihu and Fallon, were cast out by even Higher Powers because Elihu broke the rules and made a world of his own (Fallon was punished because of his close relationship to Elihu).
  • Revenge: This is Beloved's key motive; she blames the unicorns for her father's death and her unending pain and has sworn to wipe them out in return.
  • Rotating Protagonist: Happens often in book 3, with most chapters following either Cara or her father's point of view, but a number of others get their turn too, such as the Dimblethum, Lightfoot, Belle, M'gama and the delver formerly known as Nedzik. Book 4 continues the trend.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: More than a few of the Hunters decide to retreat back to Earth when they're losing the final battle.
  • Soul Jar:
    • Cara briefly carries a dragon's soul jar in the first book, and astonishes Firethroat by returning it as soon as she can. In gratitude, the dragon grants her the gift of languages.
    • The Chiron, ruler of the centaurs, had his life-force placed in an egg to extend his lifespan; only one of royal and magical blood can break it and end his life, which he asks Cara to do for him in return for the story she seeks.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Dimblethum and the Squijum.
  • The Squadette: Belle, who is part of the Queen's Guard.
  • Succession Crisis: A minor one when the Chiron of the centaurs dies. It's tradition that those who are willing will fight one another, and the winner becomes the new leader. This is how Arkon becomes the new Chiron in book 4, after the previous one died in book 3.
  • Take Away Their Name: Nedzik suffers this fate in book 3 when his king punishes him for refusing to obey orders, which is considered a betrayal. Cara later nicknames him "Rocky", and he uses this name from then on.
  • Take Our Word for It: In the first book (two pages from the end) Cara and her companions make the final trip to Summerhaven. We're told that the journey there was "filled with marvels and wonders" and get no elaboration on any of it.
  • Team Pet: The Squijim, who appears to be a cross between a squirrel and a monkey.
  • Teleportation: A limited version - "Shimmering", as it's called, is a means of rapid transport, but it only works within the Rainbow Prison, and involves a lot of concentration and picturing where the person wants to go.
  • Theme Naming: The centaurs have Greek names.
  • Token Heroic Orc: Nedzik, later known as Rocky, gives Cara and her friends help in the first book, and later refuses to attack M'Gama's home in order to get an item they need to make Beloved's invasion easier. For it, he's stripped of his name and imprisoned, but he winds up joining Cara in escaping when she's thrown in the same prison cell. It later turns out his teacher Namza was also one, and Rocky's cousins join him later; these actions later culminate in his becoming the new king after the Whisperer is killed and the delvers as a whole pull a Heel–Race Turn.
  • Touch Telepathy: Unicorns need physical contact in order to speak to people telepathically, though they can only do it with those whose hearts they've pierced with their horn.
  • Translator Microbes: Among other gifts, dragons have the gift of tongues, letting them understand and speak any language. By drinking their blood (if it's fresh and given willingly), others can acquire this same power. It even works for Cara after she becomes a unicorn.
  • Unicorn: Well, duh. Their origins are revealed in book 4: Fallon, a Greater Power, made the first four pairs of unicorns as an expression of joy and thanks, his gift to Earth to thank it for sheltering him after he was cast out of the Higher Realms. As such, he is essentially their father, and his blood flows through the veins of all of them... and even the Whisperer, since it was created from the unicorns.
  • Walking the Earth:
    • Most of the humans in Luster are nomadic.
    • The Wanderers, like Ivy Morris, who are driven by some endless urge to roam.
  • Wandering Minstrel: The Queen's Players, who've been charged with traveling Luster and entertaining the other residents (mainly the humans and unicorns).
  • Wanderlust Song: The titular "Song of the Wanderer" from book 2.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In book 2, we hear the story of Ebillan, one of Luster's dragons, who has been trying to get to the world where the majority of the other dragons, including his lover, went. His story is never resolved.
  • World Tree: The Axis Mundi, the very heart of Luster; it sprouted when Elihu embedded a stolen seed into a piece of mass from a star and watered it with his own blood, and so became the beginnings of Luster. When Beloved's gate pierces through it, it nearly results in the destruction of Luster.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Beloved would certainly hurt her own great-great-great-great-granddaughter.

Alternative Title(s): Into The Land Of The Unicorns, The Song Of The Wanderer, Dark Whispers, The Last Hunt

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